For decades, city officials in Los Angeles have taken a hands-off approach to oil and gas drilling, allowing companies to operate and even expand near homes and schools with little scrutiny. Now faced with increasing pressure from community and environmental groups, elected officials are beginning to step up their oversight of roughly 1,000 active wells within the city limits. They have a lot more to do.
This week City Council President Herb Wesson called for immediately hiring a full-time expert to oversee drilling operations and coordinate agencies responsible for regulating exploration and extraction. Mayor Eric Garcetti told the Times his office is already interviewing candidates for the job. The city had a “petroleum administrator” in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s who’d been responsible for addressing issues related to oil extraction. But the position has gone unfilled in recent decades, leaving no coordination in City Hall on oil and gas issues, no tracking of past oil drilling permits and no follow-up on conditions imposed on oil operations to protect their neighbors.
Even city staff in a 2014 Planning Department report acknowledged there was “significant room for improvement” in the way L.A. regulates oil and gas activity. The department urged the City Council to hire a technical expert to advise city officials on better ways to permit and regulate oil operations to protect communities. Yet community groups are still waiting for the city to act.