Community Activists Seek Shutdown of Petrochemical Drilling in Pico-Robertson


Community Activists Seek Shutdown of Petrochemical Drilling in Pico-Robertson

Company Violated Terms of Previous Agreement and Out of Compliance with Law

Tova Abady

Ushmartem Meod L’naf Shotechem. The community must mobilize to shut down the oil drilling facilities in Pico-Robertson!” said Emanuel Taitz at a meeting held November 20th at the Pico Shul. The purpose of the meeting was to update residents and representatives from local synagogues, schools, and businesses about the status of oil and natural gas wells located directly across the street from the Pico Shul. Additional goals were to inform attendees about current violations and to organize members of the community seeking elimination of this likely hazard.

Taitz, a Pico-Robertson resident who attends the West Side Shul and Young Israel of Century City, was just one person of many to share their concerns at the event. The petrochemical drilling is right in the heart of Pico-Robertson. Many residents and passersby are unaware of its presence because a 175-foot tower and the facility’s retaining walls, with vines wrapped around them, were intended to imitate a synagogue. The drilling site takes up two blocks on Pico Boulevard, from Doheny to Oakhurst and Oakhurst to Cardiff. The only sign of anything unusual is a small notice that states prolonged exposure can be harmful to your health.

Rabbi Yonah and Rebbetzin Rachel Bookstein of the Pico Shul have decided to organize the Jewish community here as well as our non-Jewish neighbors around this issue. They’ve established the Pico-Robertson Health and Safety Coalition and have been actively working to alert the public and contacting officials. A number of violations with the potential to place the community in danger have already been discovered.

For the first few minutes of the meeting, Rabbi Bookstein explained the history of the facility from its inception to present. In 1966, the original tower was built by Occidental Petroleum. In 1988, they sold the site to Breitburn, which specialized in buying old wells and increasing their production. In the early 2000s, a group of individuals formed Neighbors For a Safe Environment; they sued Breitburn for odor and noise complaints. They were forced to settle due to mounting legal bills. Following the settlement, Breitburn did not comply with many of its provisions. For example, each five years, there were supposed to be reviews conducted, but the last one was in 2005. Moreover, the 2005 review used testing and monitoring methods that were substandard.

Eventually, Breitburn went bankrupt. The site was bought by Pacific Coast Energy Company. Only two months ago, new owners came aboard (using the same name).

Although no studies have been done to date in Los Angeles, in 2014, a peer-reviewed study conducted in five states—Arkansas, Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming—was published in the journal Environmental Health which concluded there were “potentially dangerous compounds and chemical mixtures that can make people feel ill and raise their risk of getting cancer” in areas which abut urban petrochemical sites.

“The implications for health effects are just enormous,” said David O. Carpenter, the paper’s senior author and director of the University at Albany’s Institute for Health and the Environment.”

According to the air sampling in the above referenced study, “Forty percent of laboratory tests found benzene, formaldehyde, or other toxic substances associated with oil and gas production that were above levels the federal government considers safe for brief or longer-term exposure.”

The hugely profitable petrochemical industry was largely dismissive of the research that was released.

Additionally, the fire department has cited Pacific Coast Energy Company for several violations, including holding combustible materials on site with insufficient precautions. And while the state permitted several generators to be added to the facility in the last two years, local authorities were not notified appropriately to their presence.

Foul odors have been detected at the Pico Shul and even at yesterday’s meeting several people were overwhelmed by the smell. Rabbi Bookstein said that just like we’re told, “See something, say something, so should we adhere to, “Smell something, say something.” He pointed out that there is indeed a number to call for this purpose: 1-800-CUT-SMOG.

Longtime Happy Minyan member, Aaron Biston, who has extensive experience in the field of real estate, finds it ironic that the city inspects his rent-controlled apartments and scrutinizes even the most minute details of each property, demanding immediate action for the smallest of violations, yet virtually ignores oil drilling facilities that could potentially result in major health issues for the hundreds of adjacent residents, students, and workers.

Dr. Matthew Lefferman was also present at the meeting in his role as a community organizer and concerned parent. He stated that there is an urgent need for more stringent guidelines and robust testing for the local incidence of cancer and other conditions which may be triggered by the presence of petrochemical drilling. He also said this is a topic that should mobilize the entire local community, regardless of affiliation.

Shabsi Katz said he shudders to think what the potential harm is to our community. He lives in Pico Robertson about a mile from the site. “Residents are receiving small dividends for the oil drilled under their homes, but it’s not worth it potentially killing them with cancer and a host of other diseases. “

Advocacy attorney Aimee Zeltzer, a Pico resident who has attended both meetings at the Pico Shul on this subject, wrote a powerful letter to elected officials with four requests for immediate action: an open viewing day for concerned citizens to see what goes on behind closed doors, immediate construction of a 2500-foot setback surrounding the site (as proposed by Paul Koretz, the City Council member representing the fifth district of Los Angeles) until the oil wells are shut down, and full disclosure of health and environmental information such as how many cancerous toxins are emitted into the air and water each year.

Committees were formed at the meeting, and individuals are encouraged contact Rabbi Bookstein to get involved or to schedule meetings on the topic at their shuls and organizations. Rabbi Bookstein is coordinating with STAND-LA, a community organization which is fighting drilling in predominately Latino sections of L.A.

Rabbi Bookstein said that the City says there will be a public review in the near future, but no date has been announced. He made it clear to all present that this is an extremely critical issue affecting the lives of thousands of people who live, study, and work in Pico-Robertson and its environs.