When you think of giant oil fields you probably conjure up an image of vast areas of land or sea suitable for digging. However, Los Angeles demonstrates that oil extraction can take place right under our feet, producing as much as 100 million barrels every year. Compared to other major oil sites across the world, L.A. disguises oil diggers, sprawled across the city, as towers and buildings, so as not to look out of place. Six-story buildings and painted towers have been constructed across the city as facades to big oil diggers, extracting the black gold out of sight of daily commuters and tourists.
With approximately 5,000 urban oil wells and 70 functioning oil fields, L.A. is a giant producer that no one talks about. There are few other locations where extraction projects are taking place right in the center of the city, next to schools, businesses, and hospitals. Except for long-standing residents who have learned of the digging, few know about the urban oil production happening right on their doorstep.
At present, an estimated 37,000 people are employed in L.A.’s oil and gas industry. The industry could be earning L.A. as much as $8.6 billion in gross regional product according to 2020 reports; contributing $250 million to the City General Fund annually.
As well as small extraction projects dotted across the city, discovered in 1924, the Inglewood oil field is the biggest urban oilfield in the country. The field has produced around 2.5 to 3.1 million barrels annually over the past ten years, with a total output of approximately $2.9 billion.
The problem now is activists and organizations, such as STAND LA, Sunrise, and the Youth Climate Strike, highlighting environmental and health concerns in an attempt to curb the city’s vast oil production. They argue that most oil production is taking place in L.A.’s lower-income neighborhoods, where residents have no option but to stay.
City campaigns include “No Drilling Where We Are Living”, a call for oil companies to establish a 2,500 feet buffer-zone between oil derricks and residential areas to protect Californian’s health and safety. Many of these efforts come following a 2018 report on the “Public Health and Safety Risks of Oil and Gas Facilities in Los Angeles County” suggesting L.A.’s oil industry could be adding to several health risks.
However, L.A.’s oil industry seems to fall into a grey area when it comes to safety regulations. Long-standing agreements and the ongoing granting of fracking permits continually see complaints of pollution and questions over public health regulations quashed.
On the other hand, according to a 2020 report by the Western States Petroleum Association, the phasing out of the city’s oil and gas industry would increase unemployment rates dramatically, as well as hitting household incomes and the city’s economy hard. This comes at a time when L.A. is already battling with unemployment and reduced incomes due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The question is whether the residents of L.A. are actually being put at risk by the city’s urban oil production and, if so, can L.A. afford to curb the industry; which could lead to increased unemployment and have a dramatic impact on the county’s economy? Only time will tell whether the oil industry can work hand-in-hand with the city to balance safety and economics.
By Felicity Bradstock for Oilprice.com
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