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Oil company Allenco and its leaders face criminal charges over deteriorating wells

Allenco Energy drill site near USC
The Allenco Energy drill site near USC in 2019.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Allenco Energy, which has operated a South Los Angeles drill site that spurred an outcry over nosebleeds and headaches suffered by neighbors, is facing criminal charges for allegedly flouting a state order and failing to properly abandon wells.

The “charges show that we won’t allow Allenco to continue allegedly defying the law and disregarding its neighbors when it comes to environmental safety and health protections,” Los Angeles City Atty. Mike Feuer said in an announcement Tuesday. “This is a matter of environmental justice.”

The misdemeanor charges filed this week also target Allenco Chief Executive Clifford E. Peter Allen and company Vice President Timothy Parker. An Allenco representative reached Tuesday declined to comment.

Earlier this year, California regulators ordered Allenco to plug wells and decommission the drill site, which would permanently close the inactive facility. State Oil and Gas Supervisor Uduak-Joe Ntuk, formerly L.A.'s petroleum administrator, said the company had failed to fix leaking wells and effectively “deserted” the site.

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The criminal complaint against Allenco and its leaders specifically cites their alleged failure to comply with a state order issued last year that required the firm to plan and carry out “well killing” to address leaks from deteriorating wells. Allenco appealed the order, but Feuer said it was ultimately affirmed and “to date, Allenco has not complied.”

Ntuk said Tuesday that “the facility continues to be a potential risk to public health, safety, and the environment.”

The oil company and its leaders are also accused of violating a municipal code that requires idle wells to be either reactivated or properly abandoned, failing to take those steps for 21 wells.

In total, Allenco faces more than two dozen new criminal counts for allegedly violating state and local laws. The City Attorney’s Office said that the charges could be punishable with years in jail if the executives are convicted.

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Hundreds of unplugged oil wells puncture the urban landscape of Los Angeles. But the city has been reluctant to use its full powers to ensure cleanup and protect the public.

Allenco had agreed to suspend its operationssuspend operations at the site nearly seven years ago, after federal and local investigations had already been launched and an environmental team touring the site had been sickened by toxic fumes.

Feuer then sued and obtained a court ordercourt order imposing new requirements if Allenco wanted to restart operations. In February, Parker told state regulators that Allenco was liquidating and planned to sell its portion of the South Los Angeles site, complaining that the state had made it too difficult to reopen it.

“We have spent tremendous amounts of capital trying to be compliant and prove that we are good stewards of compliance!” Parker wrote.

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Parker also said that Allenco was engaged in discussions with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, which owns the property, and a possible developer to “remove us from having any further business responsibilities at this site.”

However, the Archdiocese said Tuesday that Allenco was still in possession of the site to maintain the facility safely until it is decommissioned, and although alternative uses are being evaluated, “there are no immediate plans to transfer the site.”

Community activists have pushed to shutter the Allenco site permanently, arguing that petroleum facilities should not be operated close to homes and schools in the University Park neighborhood near USC. The Stand L.A. coalition, which opposes neighborhood drilling, has advocated an end to drilling within a 2,500-foot “buffer” of homes and schools.

Nancy Halpern Ibrahim, executive director of Esperanza Community Housing, called the charges “a welcome and long overdue victory,” lamenting that residents had continued to see leaks even after the site was inactive.

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Nalleli Cobo, who endured nosebleeds as a child living near the Allenco site, said she was grateful to the city attorney for “making sure people are held accountable for not doing the right thing.”

“As a person that has gone through this, knowing that we still have to fight for the basic right to breathe clean air is really upsetting,” said Cobo, 19, an environmental activist with Stand L.A.


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