by Jasmin Vargas
When you think of Los Angeles, you might picture palm trees, congested highways, and sunny vistas. Many outside the city might not know that L.A. is splotched with oil wells. But in December 2022, the L.A. City Council and County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to immediately ban new oil and gas drilling.
After nearly a decade, countless actions, protests, marches, and rallies, urban oil drilling in L.A. will soon be a distant memory as we move away from fossil fuels. Here’s how we did it.
We Stopped Dangerous Drilling by Standing with Neighbors and Allies
Food & Water Watch’s engagement on oil drilling in Los Angeles began with a simple truth: fracking is not a climate solution. It poisons our water and helps drive the climate crisis.
We were already engaged in heated campaigns to stop fracking in New York and Pennsylvania. We used that momentum to join with allies across California, launching a coalition to fight the practice in the Golden State: Californians Against Fracking.
As part of this campaign, we began an effort to ban fracking in Los Angeles, securing a commitment from the L.A. City Council for an ordinance to do just that.
We then began supporting an environmental justice-led campaign to end oil drilling in Los Angeles. Companies have long-sited operations near homes and parks in communities like in Wilmington and South L.A. So when advocates formed Standing Together Against Neighborhood Drilling (STAND LA) to elevate the voices of those impacted by drilling, Food & Water Watch joined as an ally.
L.A.’s Drilling Ban is a Huge First Step to Protect Communities
For years, residents have complained about pollution and health issues. Within city limits, L.A. has more than 5,000 active and idle wells. More than half a million residents live within a quarter-mile of active wells. This exposes them to pollutants like the carcinogen benzene and lung-racking particulate matter. Living near wells is linked to respiratory issues and preterm births.
Moreover, nearly a third of L.A. wells are sited near parks, schools, and homes. And because drilling is disproportionately sited in communities of color, Black and brown folks are disproportionately sickened by it.
This hard-won victory underscores how we create winning campaigns when we organize alongside neighbors and build strong coalitions. Food & Water Watch and our allies at STAND LA arranged community toxic tours, bike rides, and ban-fracking actions. All those efforts have finally secured an oil drilling ban and phase-out in L.A. City and County, impacting over 10 million people.
We’re Taking on Big Oil and Gas in L.A. and Beyond
Thanks to our supporters, Food & Water Watch can join with allies to take on major battles — and win. We’ve fought new gas and oil drilling projects in Carson, CA, and responded to the largest gas blowout in U.S. history at Aliso Canyon. We banned new drilling in Culver City and pushed for equitable local building and transportation electrification.
Food & Water Watch continued this work even through the pandemic. Despite challenges, we’ve gotten thousands of constituent calls to the Mayor and L.A. City Council throughout the years. Before the drilling ban, we led efforts to get Neighborhood Councils to pass resolutions supporting new health and safety buffer zones. Those efforts included churning out hundreds of letters from constituents to City Councilmembers. Many of those Councilmembers then championed our cause.
Building on this victory, the fight for climate justice continues and can transform how L.A. uses energy. The city is replacing oil drilling with solar panels and battery back-up. It will transition to 100% clean energy by 2035. Local schools and parks are turning into resiliency hubs.
While electrification plans for home and transport will grow the city’s energy demands, the lights won’t go out — as long as L.A. invests in energy efficiency and grid upgrades to smartly and efficiently manage our demand.
Los Angeles’ developments are important markers in the campaign to end fossil fuels and move toward a climate justice future. California is a trailblazer for environmental legislation, and we look forward to more cities nationwide following in L.A.’s footsteps. Our communities and our climate depend on it.
Everyone should know — if L.A. can do it, so can every city.