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Residents Remain Concerned About Oil Field Agreement

Some question whether a settlement to regulate oil wells and air pollution in Culver City will ensure the community's safety.

The Culver City Democratic Club hosted a community forum Wednesday to shed more light on the recent settlement between Culver City and Plains Exploration & Production Co. (PXP) and Los Angeles County that marked an end to a five-year effort to curtail and mitigate the effects of oil drilling on Culver City.

The Inglewood Oil Field Agreement, which was signed July 5, will limit new oil wells, monitor air quality, check groundwater, reduce noise pollution and put in new landscaping by using a local workforce. This agreement is a settlement of a lawsuit that was filed against Los Angeles County and PXP two years ago by Culver City and local environmental groups, who wanted more stringent regulations on oil drilling in the field that abuts many Culver City homes.

Karly Katona, the environmental deputy for county Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, said at the meeting that the settlement of the lawsuit was the best way to handle 15 mitigation points including a study on hydraulic fracturing for gas (also known as fracking), well abandonment contamination issues, transparency about additives going into groundwater, limiting the oil rigs and moving the drilling toward the center of the oil field, away from the borders. 

Chief among the questions asked at the meeting was the cost of oil well cleanup as well as assurance to the community that it would take place.

Former Culver City Democratic Club President Tom Camarella said there is only a $2 million bond in place for cleanup of the oil wells, even though he had researched the cost of cleanup per well, which would be $500,000. With 2,000 wells, the price tag would total $1 billion, he said.

“I want to know what exactly are the contaminates? I asked this of the oil company at a previous town hall meeting and they said they would pay for any contamination. Does this mean they will provide drinking water for residents for 40 years? A $2 million bond is not enough,” Camerella said. Katona responded by saying that bond amounts are controlled by the state.

Said John Kuechle, a Culver Crest resident and attorney who has been heavily involved with getting Los Angeles County to adopt regulations for oil drilling on the field: “While these are huge steps in the right direction in some ways, they are only partial steps. We have 1,000 acres of prime land in horrible condition—the county must find a way for the oil companies to release the land for something better and more productive than an oil field,” he said. Kuechle and Katona were leading the panel at the meeting to answer audience questions.

He also added that the county needs to gain control of the land rights in order to shrink the field, thereby moving the drilling to the center, and the ultimate cleanup of the damaged land.

The agreement does not address these issues at all, according to Kuechle: “There’s a reason these two steps are not addressed in the agreement—they are the most difficult because the oil companies plan to stay forever,” he told Patch after the meeting.

Resident Mim Shapiro asked Katona why property damage is not addressed in the agreement.

“My husband and I heard a high-pitched sound we had never heard before that lasted six to seven seconds. It was so loud I thought the roof was going to fall in. Then a few days later I noticed new 8-foot cracks on my walls that were not there even after earthquakes,” Shapiro said. Kotana told the audience she had been to Shapiro’s home and is addressing the allegations.

“Attributing the damage to the right source is a complicated issue,” Katona said.

The meeting ended with a discussion about the future of the regulations and their enforcement, to which Katona asserted that the county has hired an outside agency to monitor and enforce them. But she also acknowledged that it’s a challenging situation.

Overall, Katona seemed pleased with the new settlement.

“Over the past two and half years this lawsuit has been my top priority as the environmental deputy for Ridley-Thomas and we are happy with the outcome. The agreement covers each of the core elements the supervisor was concerned about; sight, sound, smell and safety—we don’t like being sued by our friends,” Katona said, referring to Culver City and the other three plaintiffs in the suit against L.A. County.

But, at least from the meeting’s standpoint, residents don’t seem to share the same opinion. Ronnie Jayne, past president of the Culver City Democratic Club, is concerned and feels there are more questions to be asked.

“If they are going to be here for 100 years, I guess only time will tell and we will eventually know the answers,” Jayne said.

Click to read detailed information regarding the agreement on the Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas website.

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