There are over 24,000 oil wells located in Los Angeles, 5194 of which are new or currently active. 70% of these new or active wells are located within 1,500 feet of a home or sensitive land use, such as a school or hospital, worsening the adverse health impacts of oil extraction. The communities and residents featured in the Drilling Down report describe symptoms including headaches, exacerbated respiratory issues, nausea, nosebleeds as a result of a resurgence of oil drilling operations taking place in their neighborhoods. These Environmental Justice communities are already disproportionately burdened by environmental pollution and social vulnerabilities, leaving them even more vulnerable to the health and safety concerns of neighborhood drilling.
Health and safety concerns from urban oil operations in LA neighborhoods, as identified by the Drilling Down report, include the following:
- Wastewater from oil and gas well stimulation contains a combination of chemical additives used during operations – including known carcinogens, reproductive toxins, and endocrine disruptors – as well as byproduct contamination from drilling – including volatile organic compounds and heavy metals. 280-400 gallons of contaminated wastewater are produced for every barrel of crude oil extracted.
- Drilling and extraction are associated with a variety of health-damaging air pollutants; air pollution is linked to asthma, exacerbated heart disease, and low-birth weight, and has been connected to adverse birth outcomes such as infant mortality, and birth defects.
- The oil industry is the largest industrial source of VOC emissions, a group of chemicals that contribute to smog and ground-level ozone. Los Angeles already suffers from poor air quality and has the worst ozone pollution in the US, especially in low income communities of color that are already over-burdened from exposure to air toxics from industry, goods movement, and transportation.
- States with increased drilling operations have documented increases in VOC levels and worsened ozone levels.
Chemicals of concern used and emitted by oil and gas drilling operations include known carcinogens, reproductive toxins, endocrine disruptors, and mutagens. Even still, the full extent of chemical use in oil drilling operations is unknown, due to trade secret protections that allow companies to hide the chemicals and mixtures used in their operations. Some of the chemicals of concern include benzene, toluene, xylenes, crystalline silica, methanol, hydrochloric acid, hydrofluoric acid, aluminum oxide, and ethyl glycol.
The report features the stories of Environmental Justice communities living close to these oil and gas extraction operations. Many of these communities have joined together as part of Stand Together Against Neighborhood Drilling – Los Angeles (STAND-LA) in order to protect community health from neighborhood drilling. The report also features various policy solutions to explore in efforts to assess the safety of these operations close to sensitive land uses, and protect the health of LA communities.
STAND-L.A. is an environmental justice coalition of community groups that seek to end neighborhood drilling to protect the health and safety of Angelenos on the front lines of urban oil extraction. Please visit the website for more information on STAND-LA and neighborhood drilling. Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles is among the founding members of STAND-LA.