Oil company says disputed site in South L.A. could reopen in October
AllenCo Energy Inc. says it is planning to resume operations next month at a South Los Angeles oil site where neighbors once complained of nausea, nosebleeds and other ailments, according to a document sent to state regulators.
The company agreed to suspend oil production at the site nearly five years ago at the urging of then-U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, after a public outcry spurred federal and local investigations and environmental officials were sickened by fumes at the site. Los Angeles City Atty. Mike Feuer then sued and got a court order requiring AllenCo to follow new rules if it wants to restart operations.
Last week, AllenCo sent a written plan to the state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources citing a “planned startup date” of Oct. 15. It indicated that the facility would be staffed and operating all day, every day. Two supervisors would be working at all times, and their “primary responsibility is to maintain the facility in a safe and environmentally responsible condition.”
In addition, the company wrote that the site was now surrounded by an emissions monitoring system and that any oil residue would be cleaned “as soon as possible.”
AllenCo did not respond to an email and phone message Wednesday seeking comment.
The Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources said it is still reviewing the startup plan, as well as recent tests of pipelines and tanks at the facility. Even if it is deemed adequate, inspections involving the Los Angeles Fire Department and state regulators would have to take place, division spokesman Donald Drysdale said in an email.
“It seems unlikely the facility’s reopening is imminent,” Drysdale wrote.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also said it has not received a mandatory certification from AllenCo, which it must provide to the agency 15 days before the site reopens.
Community activists say they are gravely worried about oil operations restarting at the South L.A. site, despite announced upgrades.
“There is no safe way to have such an industrial activity in a residential community,” said Nancy Halpern Ibrahim, executive director of Esperanza Community Housing.
Uduak-Joe Ntuk, L.A.’s petroleum administrator, has argued that the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, which owns the site and has a leasing agreement with the company, could terminate that lease. The archdiocese has repeatedly countered that it does not have the right to shut down the facility, but says it has been working with the city and AllenCo to find an alternative use.
Feuer could not be reached for comment Wednesday because he was observing Yom Kippur. His spokesman, Rob Wilcox, said it was too early to know if AllenCo had met the legal requirements to reopen because state regulators need to review any application to resume operations.
“The court’s order assures the community that AllenCo will never be allowed to reopen unless it complies with every single health and safety regulation — and installs a state-of-the-art health and safety monitoring system, overseen by an independent environmental expert authorized to shut the facility down,” Wilcox said in a written statement.
Earlier this month, the City Council voted to ask city lawyers to draft an ordinance that would repeal the “oil drilling district” that covers the AllenCo site, which City Councilman Gil Cedillo said might stop it from reopening. That ordinance still has to come back for approval, however, and Ntuk called it “kind of uncharted territory.”
Ntuk said that in light of AllenCo’s history, he, too, is concerned about the firm resuming operations there.
“We haven’t had anybody else with this level of violations,” he said.
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