Environment & Science

New urban oil field rules tighten emissions controls, but it's not enough for some communities

SCAQMD Executive Officer Barry Wallerstein speaks to residents during a town hall meeting discussing recent findings from air monitoring and enforcement efforts related to AllenCo Energy, Inc. in the University Park. The meeting was hosted by the South Coast Air Quality Management District on Wednesday at Mount St. Mary's College.
SCAQMD Executive Officer Barry Wallerstein speaks to residents during a town hall meeting discussing recent findings from air monitoring and enforcement efforts related to AllenCo Energy, Inc. in the University Park. The meeting was hosted by the South Coast Air Quality Management District on Wednesday at Mount St. Mary's College.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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Regional air quality officials have tightened rules on odors and fumes coming from thousands of wells at hundreds of urban oil fields in Southern California. The move comes after coordinated campaigns by people living near oil operations in Huntington Beach, Whittier, and South Los Angeles.

Regulations set by the South Coast Air Quality Management District will require signs posted in English and Spanish that explain how to report noxious smells, and more cleaning of well equipment when community complaints come in.

If oil mists over a school, health care facility or house, as it did at the Jefferson Oil field in South L.A. a few years back, the oil field operator now will have to report to regulators why it happened. Where problems are chronic in dense and residential areas, some oil fields will have to install new monitoring systems.

And all operators that use non-conventional extraction techniques — like acidizing, gravel packing or hydraulic fracturing, or fracking — will have to give communities 48 hours notice of those activities, instead of 24.

“Today’s actions will help protect public health and improve air quality, especially in communities surrounding these facilities,” said William A. Burke, chair of the AQMD governing board, in a release. 

The new rules will require daily inspections for some well equipment only if that equipment within 328 feet of homes, not 1500 feet, as critics of urban oil fields in Whittier, Huntington Beach, and South Los Angeles had wanted.