The Fight Against Oil Drilling Near Homes and Schools

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“My fight was to work in coalition and do the impossible ” said Meghan Sahli-Wells as oil pump jacks bobbed relentlessly in the hills behind her. 

The former Mayor, now National Sierra Club Board Secretary, addressed a group of Sierra Club members and environmental activists in Kenneth Hahn Park, “We finally got to a point where we were able to stop all new drilling in this 100-year-old field and to phase out all drilling over the next five to seven years. We were able to do that in Culver City with the incredible partnership, power and organizing from Sierra Club leaders.”  

The group had gathered to celebrate the successful decade-long fight to shut down the oil wells in Culver City’s portion of the Inglewood Oil Field. 

Monica Embry, former Associate Director with the Beyond Dirty Fuels Campaign, spoke about her time working on the campaign, “I remember lobbying you as Mayor, Meghan, partnering with you is really what that felt like. And that was amazing to have a co-governance model where an organization rooted in vision and values gets to work with the leaders to pass the policies our communities and climate need! And when we won in Culver City, we said, ‘eyes to the county!’” 

Indeed, after Culver City made the first move, the City and County of Los Angeles followed with their own plans to end oil drilling in the parts of the Inglewood Oil Field outside of Culver City. 

David Haake, Angeles Chapter Clean Break Team Chair and Sierra Club West LA Group Chair, recalled how Sierra Club members’ complaints about toxic fumes, spills and the release of toxic materials moved him to work with Clean Break, a committee of the Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club that advocates for an end to oil and gas drilling, fracking, and all other forms of well stimulation, production, and distribution in Los Angeles and Orange Counties. David Haake was just one of the many Sierra Club members in attendance currently involved in Sierra Club canvassing efforts in Long Beach and Signal Hill where activists are organizing to stop a 20-year permit extension for oil drilling.

Other speakers pointed to the extensive network of electrical wires running through the field, reminding the group that oil extraction consumes a lot of energy, sometimes more than it extracts. Believe it or not, Culver City’s pump jacks run on 100% renewable energy provided by the Clean Power Alliance. 

After drilling is phased out, residents will have to decide the future of the oil field. One speaker argued that as much as Culver City might want and need housing, the fields are so polluted that clean-up would be too long, complicated, and expensive to make it worthwhile. Given the expense of clean up and the extensive existing electrical infrastructure, he suggested that the city would be better off using the former oil fields to locate battery storage.

Michelle Persoff, Senior Field Representative from the office of Assemblymember Isaac Bryan talked about the fight to regulate oil drilling at the state level. Assemblymember Bryan represents Culver City which is part of Assembly District 55, a district which includes the entire Inglewood Oil Field. Bryan has had the Culver City Democratic Club endorsement each time he’s run for office.

In 2022, Assemblymember Bryan fought hard to get SB 1137 over the finish line in the Assembly and on to Governor Newsom’s desk for signature after it passed the State Senate. SB 1137 is a law requiring that new oil and gas wells be set back at least 3200 feet from “sensitive receptors” such as schools, homes and hospitals. Persoff explained that as soon as SB 1137 was signed, the oil companies were able to pause the law and continue to drill by spending millions on paid signature-gathers who lied to get enough signatures to put a measure that would repeal the law on the November ballot. Last summer,  the Culver City Democratic Club voted to support the fight to “keep the law” against the ballot measure that would repeal it. In his new role as Chair of the Natural Resources Committee, Assemblymember Bryan is in a key position to support environmental legislation. Bryan begins his tenure as chair with high marks on his environmental voting record from California Environmental Voters in 2021, 2022, and 2023 and from the Sierra Club in 2021, 2022, and 2023.  

Persoff alerted the group to two important environmental bills that Assemblymember Bryan has authored for the 2024 legislative cycle, two bills that have already earned Culver City Democratic Club endorsement; ACA 16 is a proposed constitutional amendment which would enshrine the right to clean air, clean water and a healthy environment into the California State Constitution and AB 2716 to fine low-producing wells that continue to operate for more than two years. 

After participants had enjoyed a short hike from the Stone View Nature Center to Kenneth Hahn park, they were treated to lunch in a garden where Executive Director of the Sierra Club Foundation Dan Chu and Sierra Club Board President Allison Chin spoke to the group about the movement, the people, and the philanthropy promoting a greener, cleaner future for the planet and its people. 

Club members present included; Club President Jeff Schwartz, Leah Pressman, Meghan Sahli-Wells, Colby Devitt, David Haake, Disa Lindgren, & Dylan Gottlieb, as well as Culver City Council Candidates Bubba Fish and Nancy Barba.