Carson strikes out at oil industry, adopts toughest regulations in the state

Carson has adopted the most stringent regulations on oil and gas production in the state on top of its ban on aggressive well-stimulation practices known as fracking and acidizing.

The soon-to-be new laws, which have been introduced but not yet finalized, stem from a resident protest two years ago in response to Occidental Petroleum Corp.’s now-abandoned plan to drill 200 new oil and gas wells. The city, they argued, has too many industrial operations causing environmental and health problems.

Carson has been the subject of major contamination cases, including the ongoing cleanup project in the Carousel tract neighborhood, where a former oil-tank farm left tons of toxic waste across the 50-acre site.

The new code was approved on a 4-0 vote early Wednesday morning during a lengthy meeting that began Tuesday night. The proposed ordinance makes an about-face from existing policy on oil and gas production that is largely hands-off. It introduces tight regulations on every detail of such operations, from landscaping to safety plans to air-quality monitoring. City staff partnered with Marine Research Specialists to develop the new rules. It establishes a petroleum administrator position to oversee industry operations and ensure their compliance.

“The petroleum administer must be a licensed engineer. It’s a very thorough set of requirements (to hold the job),” said Luis Perez, a project manager with Marine Research Specialists, who added that petroleum producers can appeal any of the new rules to the city’s governmental bodies.

“Some of the things that are included in our ‘Good Neighbor’ provisions (that are) applicable to new and existing operations are: well-drilling permits, modifications and extensions, facility closure, site abandonment and restoration, setbacks, site access, lighting, signage, steaming, emergency hazards, safety, environmental resources, well standards, operational provisions and prohibited uses,” Perez said.

Council members also voted 4-0 to introduce a ban on hydraulic fracturing and acidizing, well-stimulation methods not commonly used in Carson or the Los Angeles area that have been under intense scrutiny nationwide because of their association with increased earthquakes and environmental damage. The oil-extraction methods are controversial because they utilize dangerous chemicals and large amounts of pressurized water deep underground. While Los Angeles and other local cities have considered similar bans, only Beverly Hills has explicitly outlawed fracking.

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Residents who spoke at Tuesday’s council meeting praised the bans, but oil industry representatives said they’re unnecessary and overly restrictive.

John Quirk, an attorney with Glendale-based Bright and Brown, said the company he represents — Brea Canyon Oil Co. — has never used fracking.

“Brea Canyon Oil Company is prepared to go on operating under the code, as proposed, with the expectation that, over time, unreasonably restrictive provisions will be modified,” Quirk said. “I’m sure there will be calls for more restrictive provisions from the community.”

Benjamin Hanelin, an attorney representing Californians for Energy Independence, said the new 750-foot setback between the community and industry operations is the largest one in the state.

“Current operators have been operating with 300-foot setbacks since time immemorial,” Hanelin said. “And, on the well stimulation ban, we strongly oppose any local limitations on well stimulation. They’re not necessary.”

Stacey Michaels, a teacher, said the new laws are welcome but don’t go far enough because oil facilities are still too close to schools and other sensitive areas. She and other residents asked for a 1,500-foot setback requirement.

“We’re surrounded by industry,” Michaels said. “Many of our students have nosebleeds. We’re concerned oil wells are allowed to operate so close to the schools. We do often smell odors, and children’s noses run constantly. I have a lot of tissue boxes.”

Councilwoman Lula Davis-Holmes sided with residents who wanted the greater setback. But the rest of the council agreed that 750 feet is sufficient because other safety measures are included.

Mayor Al Robles compared the issue to desegregation, saying it will take time before society is comfortable with tougher restrictions.

“Unfortunately, I know, by being an attorney, that by making a big leap to 1,000-foot setbacks, the oil industry has indicated that, without a doubt, they will challenge it. I am convinced that we will lose because of the leap forward. But, at 750 feet, we’re on stronger legal ground.”

The ‘Good Neighbor’ provisions, which regulate all existing and new facilities, will still apply, he said. Those require safety plans, noise and odor abatement, air quality precautions, emergency alert procedures, and other measures to blunt the industry’s impact on the community.

Calls from oil industry representatives to roll back the cumbersome rules were largely ignored.

“We don’t frack. We’ve said that many times,” said Ted Cordova, representing E&B Natural Resources Management Corp. “We’ve been operating safely and responsibly for many years. We’re a dedicated community member here. This is the strictest oil and gas code we’ve seen. In the end, we don’t personally like all aspects of this. We’re OK with some.”