South Los Angeles oil producer fined $ 1.5 million after Desert Sun and ProPublica probe


A South Los Angeles oil producer has been ordered by California’s main oil regulator to pay $ 1.5 million in fines for nearly 600 violations of state regulations, including the prosecution of operating aging and hazardous wells for almost a year after losing approvals.

Actions against Nasco Petroleum come two months after Desert Sun and ProPublica report lax application by California Geologic Energy Management division, including at the company’s offshore drilling site off S. Broadway and 14th Place, which sits next to public housing that residents have been concerned about for years about potential explosions, fires and effects on the health of leaks and fumes.

Nasco does not haverespond to requests for comments. The four wells of the downtown sitenamed in order were still listed as active Friday on the agency’s website. The company has the right to appeal within 15 days.

It is not known if and how CalGEM will respond to the heavy fines. In October 2019, he fined Chevron $ 2.7 million for a series of oil spills Gov. Newsom visited in the Cymric oil field in Kern County. Chevron appealed and the fine was not paid in March.A spokesperson for the agency said in an email on Friday: “There are no updates at the moment.”

Community organizers who fought for a decade to end dangerous oil extraction in neighborhoods were pleased with the large penalty and said they hoped it will be collected.

“I am happy that CalGEM is more aggressive in using its supervisory authority to tackle headstrong and problematic oil companies like the Nasco site that endanger the health and safety of community members,” he said. declared Eric Romann, coordinator of the STAND-LA coalition. But, he added, “I would say there is some evidence to suggest that CalGEM’s bark is worse than its bite. If it issues fines in problem areas that are clearly in violation and does not collect them. not even, it is deeply worrying. “

The Desert Sun and ProPublica investigation found that despite receiving funds for dozens of new employees and a shift in mission to focus on safety and the environment, many companies continue to violate the country’s oil and gas rules. California with impunity.

In 2020, CalGEM said it issued $ 191,669 in civil penalties and did not collect any. Between 2018 and 2020, CalGEM issued 66 execution orders. Of these, only 11 had been met, while the vast majority remained unresolved, according to files and agency responses.

At the Nasco site in downtown Los Angeles, this week’s order from oil and gas supervisor Uduak-Joe Ntuk caps the agency’s years of efforts to force the company to fix or shut down “bad »Well. In 2016, inspectors reported problems. In 2019, an internal CalGEM investigation unit said Nasco was injecting huge amounts of water into boreholes.above legal pressure limits, aiming to push more crude out of what’s known as the downtown Los Angeles oilfield.

Equally intense pressure led to a major oil spill in 2006, after a nearby borehole ruptured by Nasco’s predecessor. Hot raw, oily garbage gushed out of the basement, filled the basement of an apartment building, oozed manhole covers and veiled sidewalks. More than 130 low-income tenants have been evacuated.

Pressure was not the investigators’ only concern. They also noted that a number of “bad” wells had not been repaired for years and posed “immediate” risks to drinking water aquifers. In July 2020, the agency notified Nasco that it no longer had the legal permissions to inject into the wells, which stretch thousands of feet below downtown Los Angeles.

Wednesday’s order says Ntuk and his staff “determined that Nasco had injected

above the maximum surface injection pressure allowed in wells in violation of the regulations, “in an urban and ecologically sensitive area, which” Nasco has not stopped injecting despite the loss of the authorization to ‘inject … July 15, 2020 “and” Nasco failed to submit a pipeline management plan as required. ”

The Portsmouth Hotel, near the Nasco Petroleum site in Los Angeles, February 9, 2021.

Each day that Nasco continued to inject without approval is a separate violation. Ntuk ordered them to pay a civil fine of $ 1,449,000.

Romann said continued concerns over the Nasco site are another sign that city and state regulators should ban oil operations near homes, schools and other sensitive areas.

About 250,000 Angelenos live within half a mile of an active oil or gas extraction site. Statewide, 2.1 million people live within a mile of active oil wells, which use dangerous chemicals and can emit dangerous pollutants.

Newsom asked CalGEM to investigate a possible public health buffer between schools and homes and risky fossil fuel extraction, but the proposal and another to phase it out completely drew sharp criticism from companies. oil companies, their lobbyists and central valley lawmakers in particular. A draft buffer rule was expected by the end of 2020, but was postponed until this spring. It still hasn’t been released. In addition, the Los Angeles City Council is studying the zoning change to prohibit this type of drilling.

Nasco’s problematic wells were still listed as active on Friday. By law, CalGEM can issue an emergency order to stop operations if it determines that there is an immediate risk. Agency spokesperson Donald Drysdale said “no emergency orders were needed.”

Romann said: “For us that’s more ammunition for our argument that these sites should just be closed.”

Janet Wilson, a member of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network 2020, is a senior environmental reporter for The Desert Sun / USA Today network. She can be reached at [email protected] or @ janetwilson66

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