Environment & Science

Groups sue Los Angeles over alleged racial discrimination in oil drilling oversight

File: Wilmington is a modest, blue-collar section of Los Angeles dotted by thousands of oil wells.
File: Wilmington is a modest, blue-collar section of Los Angeles dotted by thousands of oil wells.
David McNew/Getty Images

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Three groups have sued the city of Los Angeles claiming it discriminates against poor and minority communities in the way it oversees urban oil drilling.

The groups — the Youth for Environmental Justice, the South Central Youth Leadership Coalition and the Center for Biological Diversity — represent environmentalists and young people living near oil and gas extraction sites in South Los Angeles and Wilmington. In their lawsuit, they say the city routinely allows drilling in those areas without assessing health and environmental risks as required under state law.

"People who live around these oil drilling sites, particularly in black and Latino communities, have complained about pollution and safety concerns for years," said Maya Golden-Krasner, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity. "But the city has done very little to address these concerns."

They also allege the city uses a double-standard in regulating drill sites. They say extraction facilities in predominantly black and Latino neighborhoods are permitted to use open-air diesel burning rigs, producing noise and noxious fumes. They also say that they are, on average, closer to schools, playgrounds and parks.

In contrast, the groups say the city is much stricter with operations on the Westside, allowing mostly electric drill equipment closed off from homes. The lawsuit, filed in L.A. Superior Court, seeks full environmental reviews of all urban drilling sites.

"Los Angeles officials have to take a hard look at the environmental risks of oil drilling across the whole city," Golden-Krasner said. "We think a thorough and fair review of  risks from oil operations would reveal they are just too dangerous and too polluting to permit next to all schools and homes."

Rob Wilcox, a spokesman for the LA City Attorney's office, said that the lawsuit was under review.