Community Advocates Bid Farewell to Senseless Oil Proposal in California

Occidental Petroleum proposed a plan to drill more than 200 new wells and lost.

Oil refinery
An oil refinery in Carson, California (Thomas Hawk / Flickr)

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This week residents in Carson, California, a city in Los Angeles County near the harbor, beat back one of the worst urban oil drilling proposals out there. Occidental Petroleum proposed an unusually dangerous plan to drill more than 200 new wells in extremely close proximity to homes, schools and parks.

Fortunately, an exceptionally strong community advocacy infrastructure already existed to push back against this bloated and risky proposal. Residents from several groups, including the Carson Coalition, consistently raised serious concerns about the impacts that this massive operation would have on their health and the fabric of their neighborhoods. Residents also wanted more community amenities, not more drills.

This type of megaproject is one of a series of efforts to expand oil and gas exploration in southern California. But, we’re seeing a trend where the oil industry’s tireless zeal to extract more oil has only served to galvanize communities into battling against it.

These battles often involve the oil industry spending huge sums of money to support what is often an exceptionally dangerous project located close to residents. Community groups then fight back, armed with intimate knowledge of the neighborhoods, a strong set of grassroots organizing tactics, and support from others like health and environmental groups.

In a recent LA Times article, the oil industry chalked up the Carson proposal failure as an issue of economics. I’m sure the economics of decreased oil pricing played an importation role, but these industry lobbyists have too much ego to acknowledge that the fierce community opposition also played a part in the disintegration of the project. Their economic calculus also entails fighting against community pressure and even lawsuits when community groups retain lawyers. Here, Occidental probably decided these costs were too high to bear.

Even without the vast surplus of cash that the oil industry has to push projects, community groups like the Carson Coalition have a tenacity that is beyond belief. Earthjustice had the pleasure to work with Carson Coalition, and I would not want to be on the opposite side of this dedicated group of people.

What happened in Carson is not an isolated event. The oil industry is determined to wage a war on communities, and you’re seeing groups pushing back throughout the southland in sophisticated ways. I’m hopeful we can begin to chip away at these projects. The recent Carson victory provides another positive sign that communities can and will ultimately prevail against the oil industry.

Based in Los Angeles, Adrian works on clean air, clean energy, and healthy communities issues as a deputy managing attorney for Earthjustice's Right to Zero campaign. Follow him on Twitter @LASmogGuy.

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