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Oil companies sue L.A. over ban on drilling

A pedestrian passes a pair of towers at an industrial site.
A pedestrian passes by Warren E&P in Wilmington in 2022. Parent company Warren Resources sued the city on Tuesday.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)
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An oil company with a drilling operation in Wilmington filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the city of Los Angeles over its a sweeping new law that will phase out oil production.

The lawsuit by Warren Resources, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, says the city failed to do a required environmental study of the effects of stopping oil extraction.

The city’s ban will lead to more oil imports, causing increased emissions from trucks and oil tankers that arrive to the L.A. area, according to the lawsuit. The suit also questions the city’s analysis of the health impacts of conducting plugging and abandonment operations.

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Four other oil entities also sued the city over the ordinance on Tuesday in a separate lawsuit.

The City Council last month moved to phase out all oil drilling in L.A., immediately banning new oil and gas extraction and requiring that all existing oil and gas extractions stop production within 20 years. City leaders and activists celebrated the phase-out as a win for residents have suffered health issues associated with the wells.

Warren, which has a nearly 10-acre oil extraction site in Wilmington, asked the court to bar the city from enforcing the law and is seeking damages, according to its lawsuit. In a statement, the company said that the new law will “result in the complete shutdown of Warren.”

Ian Thompson, a spokesperson for Los Angeles City Atty. Hydee Feldstein Soto, declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The L.A. City Council passed an ordinance Friday that requires the phaseout of oil drilling in the city within 20 years.

Warren’s L.A. site produces approximately 1,800 barrels of oil a day, according to the company. The lawsuit says its operations are “100% electric” and the emissions “are the equivalent of a physically much smaller fast-food restaurant with a drive thru.”

“Warren Resources has spent millions to consolidate our operations into a single, all-electric location with an impeccable environmental record,” James A. Watt, president and chief executive of Warren Resources, said in a statement.

The lawsuit contends the city’s actions are a violation of the California Environmental Quality Act, the city’s General Plan and the state and federal constitutions.

Stand Together Against Neighborhood Drilling, or STAND-L.A., a group of community groups, helped rally support for the ordinance in recent years by highlighting the low-income communities of color that are particularly affected by L.A.'s wells.

Oil wells are known to emit likely carcinogens including benzene and formaldehyde, and living near wells is linked to health problems including respiratory issues and preterm births, studies have found.

Bahram Fazeli, director of research and policy at Communities for a Better Environment and a co-chair of STAND LA., said Warren has a “history of causing problems” in the neighborhood.

“This is a baseless lawsuit to delay common sense protection for vulnerable communities,” Fazeli said. “The city has the right to determine its land-use priorities and to make communities whole and healthy.”

E&B Natural Resources Management Corp., Hillcrest Beverly Oil Corp., E&B ENR, and Elysium Natural Resources filed a similar lawsuit Tuesday seeking to vacate the city’s ban.


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