An oil field linked to chronic respiratory illnesses in South Los Angeles has moved a step closer to resuming operations by paying $144,250 to settle air quality violations.
Announcement of the settlement with AllenCo Energy Inc. earlier this week was unwelcome news for University Park residents who had filed hundreds of complaints in 2010 about emissions they believe caused ailments including headaches, chronic fatigue, asthma and nosebleeds in children.
The complaints led to investigations and subsequent citations from state and federal regulatory agencies. But none of them took additional steps, such as going to court, to stop residents from being sickened by repeated releases of noxious compounds.
The settlement with the South Coast Air Quality Management District capped a two-year investigation into AllenCo, which the agency cited for four violations in 2013. Those violations included creating odors that caused a public nuisance and failure to properly control emissions that released smog-forming compounds into the air, said agency spokesman Sam Atwood.
The company voluntarily halted operation on the two-acre oil field in 2013 at the request of U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), pending completion of investigations by agencies including the air quality district, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources.
Since operations ceased, formal complaints of respiratory ailments and nosebleeds in the area have all but stopped.
Under two previous settlements and the one announced by the air quality agency, AllenCo has spent more than $1 million in cash penalties and on improvements needed to fix leaks, improve equipment and comply with state and federal regulations.
Air quality regulators in May issued a permit allowing AllenCo to restart operations; it hopes to resume next year.
Neighbors fear their ailments will return once AllenCo starts up again. They say they don’t believe regulatory agencies can be trusted to take immediate action if health problems are detected in the future.
“While the community complained repeatedly and aggressively, no one did anything to prevent people from being injured by AllenCo’s oil extraction,” said Angela Johnson Meszaros, a staff attorney with the nonprofit Earthjustice. “AllenCo is a clear example of how the local, state and federal regulatory system is completely inadequate when it comes to ensuring the safety of oil extraction in an urban landscape.”
Among the hurdles AllenCo must clear before resuming operations is a lawsuit filed a year ago by the Los Angeles city attorney’s office.
The city’s 27-page complaint said AllenCo had not upgraded its fire suppression systems, complied with water quality control requirements, properly inventoried hazardous materials or filed a hazardous materials response plan.
“Any settlement must contain strong measures to protect the health and safety of the surrounding community,” City Atty. Mike Feuer said.
AllenCo leases the site from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Neighborhood activists and members of Esperanza Community Housing Corp., a nonprofit affordable housing developer in the area, recently asked Pope Francis to intervene.
“We want AllenCo shut down permanently,” said Nancy H. Ibrahim, executive director at Esperanza.
The company must notify the EPA that it has completed all the improvements at least 15 days before restarting operations.