Activists win more time in bid to regulate drilling operations in Culver City

By Gary Walker

An Inglewood Oil Field pumpjack operates in close proximity
to homes in Baldwin Hills

More than a decade after noxious fumes from the Inglewood Oil Field forced the evacuation of adjacent homes, Culver City leaders continue to plod through the laborious task of regulating drilling operations within their share of the nation’s largest urban oil field.

The oilfield spans more than 1,000 acres between Jefferson Boulevard and La Brea Avenue, with 78 acres dotted with as many as 41 active wells inside Culver City limits. The Inglewood Oil Field has been active since 1924, just five years after the incorporation of Culver City.

In September, city officials released a draft environmental impact report that contemplates whether to allow oilfield operators to drill as many as 30 new wells and use well-stimulation techniques such as hydraulic fracturing (commonly known as fracking) to keep them productive.

Concerned residents and local environmental activists complain that the document is fraught with deficiencies, and on Monday several appealed before City Council members for an extension of the state-mandated review period, which would have quietly expired this week. They asked for 60 additional days but, to the surprise of many, ended up leaving with 120 more days to pore over the highly technical document.

In recent months, those seeking tighter controls over oil drilling believed they were at odds with at least three members of the council who had expressed worry that requests for an extension could be a stall tactic ahead of contested municipal elections in April, when term limits will force Mayor Jeffrey Cooper and Councilman Jim B. Clarke from office.

During the meeting, resident Pete Rockwell asserted that denying an extension could also be perceived as playing politics.

“Anybody on the council who does not vote for the 60-day extension … people are going to wonder why not, and then they’re going to come to their own conclusions,” he said.

But in the end, it was Cooper who proposed the extension, which passed with a unanimous 5-0 vote.

“Frankly, I was surprised — 120 days was completely unexpected,” said social and environmental justice activist Daniel Lee, who is running for a council seat in April. Lee only narrowly lost a previous bid for council in 2016, with tighter oilfield regulation and a fracking ban being a cornerstone of that campaign.

After Monday’s vote, Cooper said extending the review period would give newly elected members more time to study the voluminous document while city leaders grapple with other pressing issues — including an April city ballot measure to tax and regulate cannabis.

“I felt that the council is going to have a lot on its plate in the next several months — a lot of development projects, the city’s specific plan review, and details about the cannabis ordinance,” said Cooper. “So I thought this would be one way to give the new members some time to get acquainted with the EIR.”

With the extension, residents have until 5:30 p.m. on March 14 to review and submit written comments, with city staff expected to recommend a course of action next summer. Send comments to

IOFSpecificPlanProject@culvercity.org or mail Culver City City Attorney’s Office, Attn: Heather Baker; Subject: Inglewood Oil Field Specific Plan Project; 9770 Culver Blvd., Culver City CA 90232.

 

Managing Editor Joe Piasecki contributed to
this report.

 

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