A new chapter in battle over downtown L.A. oil wells

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oildrilling1The owners of a downtown L.A. oil field that shut down two years ago amid complaints that it was making neighbors sick want to start pumping again. It could be an uphill fight, though.

Neighbors had complained for years that noxious emissions from the facility were fouling the air – causing respiratory problems, headaches and nosebleeds. In spite of a long list of violations that included failing properly handle hazardous materials, regulatory agencies never shut it down. It wasn’t until some environmental officials became sick during a tour of the facility in 2013 that the owner – AllenCo – agreed to stop pumping.

By that time, the small oil field near USC in the University Park neighborhood was facing a lawsuit from the L.A, City Attorney and scrutiny from an alphabet soup of state and federal agencies.oil2o

AllenCo. is now trying to negotiate a settlement with the L.A. City Attorney that would allow it to restart the site’s 11 wells. The company has made improvements, but those changes have not yet been approved by state and federal regulators.

City Attorney Mike Feuer says that if drilling is to resume, the owners will have to show they can comply with all environmental and community safety laws. Neighbors, meanwhile, say the air has improved in the area in the past two years, and they are concerned about what will happen if the facility reopens.

The downtown oil field – like many others in L.A. – was once owned by oil baron Edward Doheny. His descendants donated it to the Los Angeles Roman Catholic Archdiocese in the 1950s. AllenCo. bought the field from the archdiocese six years ago and more than quadrupled production at the site.