UNNC Stops Plan to Burn Off Gas at Freeport-McMoRan

Image by Bob Chamberlin LA Times

LA Times, July 5, 2016: South Los Angeles residents have scored a victory in a battle with an oil company that drills in their neighborhood, after a city official rejected its plans to burn off gas at the West Adams Boulevard site.

Freeport-McMoRan, which operates the drilling site, had argued that it needed to install an enclosed burner to get rid of unused gas that is pulled up from the earth along with the oil. It argued that the new equipment would cause “near zero emissions” and have little effect on neighbors.

But a Los Angeles zoning official rejected the company’s plans last week, saying he had “major concerns with the level of emissions” near a neighboring apartment complex, houses and an AIDS Healthcare Foundation center.

Such a burner should be in an industrial zone, not a residential area, associate zoning administrator Charles Rausch wrote. He added that the Fire Department had expressed “grave concerns” about installing the proposed burner so close to apartments, including worries about foul smells, toxic substances and the possibility of windblown debris catching fire.

Local residents had fought against the plan, arguing that the city should take a closer look at the environmental effects of burning off gas at the urban site.

“To have a gas flare burning right next to an apartment building -- it was a concern right up front,” said Jeff Camp, president of the United Neighborhoods Neighborhood Council, which opposed the proposal.

Community members also argued it was wasteful to burn off gas that could be used to generate electricity. Michael Salman, who testified against the plan, said the decision was an important test case for Southern California as the World Bank campaigns globally to halt “routine flaring” at drilling sites -- the practice of burning off natural gas instead of capturing and using it.

Camp said he was excited L.A. was enforcing rules on oil drilling set out in city codes -- something he and other critics say it has long neglected to do. But the decision did not address another concern raised by residents: Whether the city should require nonstop monitoring of emissions at the drilling site.

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