I live on the east coast of the United States in a rural area. In this area, mineral companies mine for kaolin, a white clay. These mines are located out in the woods, nowhere near a neighborhood. The other night I was browsing the internet and found a story on urban oil drilling rigs. I thought to myself, “That’s insane.” After a lot of investigating, I found this practice to be very prevalent in southern California. Los Angeles has the largest concentration of urban oilfields in the country. It’s not only drilled right in the middle of neighborhoods but also refined there as well. People can walk out of their house and look one way to see a drilling rig pumping crude oil out of the ground; then the other way to see the refinery that turns the crude oil into gasoline.
Over 53,000 people live in the Wilmington neighborhood in Los Angeles’ 15th district, most of which are Latino. The most extensive oil refinery infrastructure on the west coast is here. Affected by5 major oil refineries, 3 of which are in the Wilmington neighborhood, there are 479 active oil wells and 154 idle wells. There are oil wells next to hospitals and even in church parking lots.
Studies have shown the air quality in Wilmington to be at dangerous levels for its citizens at times. Some studies have measured air particulate matter as high as 76 parts per million. Anything above 30 parts per million is harmful to human health. Many suspect that exposure to smoke and soot from these refineries has caused adverse health effects in the community ranging from headaches to cancer. There are many dangerous chemicals used in the refining process that can get into the atmosphere, like methanol, hydrofluoric acid, crystalline silica, and formaldehyde, to name a few.
By contributing large sums of money to the community, the oil companies get some community members and leaders to look the other way from the havoc they are creating. With a wink and a nod, they contribute to schools, community projects, and recreational programs while knowingly poisoning the community. Some young activists are beginning to organize though and demand change. Communities for a Better Environment is one of those organizations. They are rallying young people to address these issues and hold their community leaders and these oil companies accountable. They have proposed an ordinance to the Los Angeles City Council to restrict any new oil-related facilities within 2500 feet of areas like neighborhoods, churches, schools, and hospitals.
I have argued so many times that society needs to cut its dependence on oil. It is an archaic, inefficient, and environmentally unsafe path for humans to continue down. It gives me hope to know those young people are taking up the cause in their community to make it cleaner and safer. Maybe in my lifetime, I’ll get to see the world end its dependence on oil.