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LA City Council votes to phase out oil drilling, ban new wells with gas prices far above national average


The Los Angeles City Council on Friday voted unanimously to ban drilling new oil and gas wells and phase out the use of existing ones over the next 20 years. 

The new city ordinance is a win for community-based and environmental groups, who had argued for decades that pollution from the wells was harming residents’ health. Council members celebrated the vote as a victory for “environmental justice.” 

“Hundreds of thousands of Angelenos have had to raise their kids, go to work, prepare their meals (and) go to neighborhood parks in the shadows of oil and gas production,” Los Angeles City Council president Paul Krekorian said. “The time has come … when we end oil and gas production in the city of Los Angeles.” 

But opponents worried the new rules could mean job losses and higher gas prices. Los Angeles already has among the highest gas prices in the nation at $4.89 per gallon for regular gas, well above the national average of $3.43, according to the American Automobile Association. 

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Council President Paul Krekorian speaks during a city council meeting at LA City Hall on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022 in Los Angeles. (Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images / Getty Images)

There are 26 oil and gas fields and more than 5,000 oil and gas wells in the city of Los Angeles, both active and idle, with some of them abandoned, according to the city planning commission. While traditionally these wells have been constructed in heavy industrial areas, many have been located within residential neighborhoods, nearby community parks and schools. More than 500,000 Los Angeles County residents live within a half-mile of an active oil well, City News Service reported. 

Ahead of the vote, the council heard public comments from groups supporting and opposed to the ordinance. 

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Children play basketball beside an oil well pump jack and tank, in the Wilmington neighborhood of Los Angeles, on Feb. 24, 2022. (ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images / Getty Images)

Krekorian addressed concerns about gas prices, commenting that less than 1% of crude oil processed in Southern California refineries comes from wells in Los Angeles and stating that the loss of drilling will not impact gas prices locally, according to City News Service. 

However, California Gov. Gavin Newsom has also proposed environmental regulations that would crack down on oil drilling statewide. The governor wants to ban oil drilling within 3,200 feet of homes, schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and other “sensitive locations.” Newsom also has proposed phasing out oil production by 2045 and ending the sale of new gas cars by 2035 to reduce demand for fossil fuel energy. 

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Oil pump in Los Angeles

An oil pumpjack operates in the Inglewood Oil Field on Jan. 28, 2022, in Los Angeles. (Mario Tama/Getty Images / Getty Images)

Oil and gas companies spoke out against the L.A. ordinance. 

Warren Resources president James A. Watt said in a statement that Warren intends to “use all available legal resources to protect our major investment from this unlawful taking” and claimed that pollution from its operations was “on par with that of a fast-food restaurant.”

“Warren has demonstrated to the City Council and all other regulatory authorities that we are not an environmentally significant pollution source for the community,” Watt said. 

Los Angeles City Planning proposed the oil and gas well ban after researchers from the University of Southern California released a study in 2021 detailing reports of health problems among residents in neighborhoods near wells. The study found people in the University Park and Jefferson Park areas reported significantly higher rates of wheezing, eye and nose irritation, sore throat and dizziness than neighbors living farther away. Both of those communities are predominantly non-white with large Black and Latino communities, according to the U.S. Census.

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The push to ban drilling in the City of Los Angeles is part of a region-wide effort to shut down oil and gas extraction throughout the county of Los Angeles, with similar measures covering Culver City and unincorporated parts of Los Angeles County passed in 2021.

“In Los Angeles, we sit on the largest urban oil deposit in the world,” said councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson ahead of the vote. “So if Los Angeles can do it, cities around the world can do it.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.