W. Adams Oil Project Rankles Neighbors

Times Staff Writer

Resolving this neighborhood dispute may require divine intervention.

That’s because an oil drilling project that is causing some residents of the West Adams District to hold their noses and cover their ears is taking place on land owned by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

Workers are laboring around the clock at the drilling site, which is surrounded by homes, apartments and an AIDS hospice, in the 2100 block of West Adams Boulevard.


Residents say they have complained about the constant rumble of machinery and clanking of pipes and about pungent oil fumes wafted into their homes.

But drillers say they plan to keep going until the oil runs out. Or until Catholic Church officials -- who receive $300,000 a year in royalties -- kick them out.

A spokesman for the archdiocese said Friday that the church was unaware of problems at the site.

Authorities, meantime, offered assurances that the drilling had city and state approval and did not constitute a health or safety problem.

Nonetheless, neighbors say they are forced to keep windows and doors shut to block the sound and the stench.

“We even called the Fire Department about the gas smells,” said Cynthia Davis, resident manager of the 192-unit St. Andrews Gardens apartments, about 100 feet east of the drilling site. “The smells are atrocious -- strong and stifling.”

The drilling noise is amplified at night when the normal sounds of the city are quiet, Davis said.

“It’s a clanking, almost a beating or pounding into the ground. Even with your windows closed you hear it.”

The 3-acre site is leased from the archdiocese by BSI Co., an independent oil company based in Ventura. It contains 27 wells, including two that are in the final stages of being redrilled to tap new oil deposits. Although there is always activity at the site, it’s noisiest when wells are being redrilled.

The site daily produces about 550 barrels of crude oil that is sold to ConocoPhillips, said Petter Romming, the firm’s vice president for engineering.

The Southern California Gas Co. buys natural gas extracted from the wells, which radiate 4,000 feet downward and outward from the site. Water pumped up along with the gas and oil is injected back into the ground, Romming said.

BSI acquired the oil lease in 2000. The first wells were drilled there in 1962 by the Union Oil Co., according to state records.

Randy Horne, environmental, health and safety manager for BSI, said his company had no knowledge of neighborhood complaints.

He said a dozen notices had been sent to neighboring property owners before the most recent drilling project began about two months ago, but nobody showed up at a public hearing conducted by Los Angeles officials.

Besides being regulated by the city, oil drilling sites are subject to review by the South Coast Air Quality Management District and the state Department of Conservation’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources. Fire officials also monitor drilling, Horne said.

But firefighters were apparently caught off guard when they drove past the walled-off site and noticed two 50-foot drilling towers inside.

“The local fire department was unaware of what we were doing -- they were a little in the dark about what was going on behind the gates,” Horne said.

Workers at the Carl Bean House, a nonprofit AIDS hospice about 10 feet from the edge of the oil field, said patients refused to use outdoor patios on days when fumes were heavy. And some patients in rooms overlooking the site have asked to be relocated to the other side of the 25-bed center.

One who didn’t request a move was Los Angeles gay rights pioneer Morris Kight, who died there last year at age 83.

“He grumbled about it being noisy. But he joked that he was born in Texas, so it was all right to die next to an oil well,” said Miki Jackson, a consultant for AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which operates the hospice.

Across the street at the seven-story Independent Square apartments, noise from well pumps was described as similar to the rumble of a constantly idling tractor-trailer.

State officials said that oil field noise issues are regulated by the city and that “smells are one of the things that are very difficult to pin down.” AQMD officials said Friday that they had not been called upon to investigate the fumes.

“The oil industry is the most regulated industry in the United States. Unfortunately, the neighbors sometimes feel like nobody’s watching,” said Dave Curtis, an operations supervisor for the state’s gas and oil division, which he said has made nine inspections at the site during the current drilling.

Representatives of City Councilman Martin Ludlow, who represents the neighborhood, did not respond to inquiries Thursday and Friday.

But BSI officials suggested their drillers might be taking the blame for nuisances caused by others. They said they had seen noisy garbage trucks turning around in their site’s driveway at night. And recently they said they had discovered that a noxious stench south of their oil field had been caused by rotting fish tossed onto church property.

“Quite frankly, I wish this field was in the boondocks -- up in Bakersfield or somewhere,” Romming said.