Culver City continues Inglewood Oil Field discussions

Residents spoke in favor of repurposing land at Aug. 13 meeting

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At a special meeting on Aug. 13, the Culver City council was presented with an amortization study of the Inglewood Oil Field, which was ordered by the council on May 28, 2019. The study, which was conducted by energy consultant firm Baker & O’Brien, showed key financial points about the oil field, particularly that with pre-COVID projections, the operators of the Culver City side of the Inglewood Oil Field would receive a return on their investment in that section of land in 2021.

This opened up several options for the city council, the most proactive and impactful being to move towards decommissioning and repurposing that part of the oil field. In the eyes of many residents who spoke at that night’s meeting, the field has been endangering their health for far too long, and 

To that end, the city ordered an amortization program on the field, which will consider the timeline for amortization and a potential phase out and reuse of the field. The City Council Oil Drilling Subcommittee — which consists of Vice-Mayor Alex Fisch and councilmember Meghan Sahli-Wells — will work directly with staff to resolve the incompatible oil and gas uses while ensuring fair return on investment for Sentinel Peak Resources, the current operators of the Culver City side of the oil field, and considers options to phase out the field as a whole.

The move to repurpose the oil field has been in the works for over 40 years, as recommendations for the repurposing the field can be traced as far back as the 1977 Culver City General Plan Update. In that update, it was recommended that the oil field be recommissioned and transitioned into housing for the Blair Hills neighborhood.

According to a report released by UCLA focused on Culver City’s General Plan entitled ‘Tapping Out in Culver City: Re-envisioning the Inglewood Oil Field,’ the repurposing of brownfield — previously developed land that suffers from significant contamination — can increase the property values of nearby homes by anywhere between 1.7% and 6.2%.

The proximity of the field to residences has also been a point of concern raised by members of the community. Looming over Bill Botts Field at Culver City Park, the field is seen as being a health risk for park goers and nearby residents. A bill currently being deliberated in the California Senate — AB 345 — would impose a required distance of 2,500 feet between oil fields and sensitive areas such as residences, hospitals, and schools. 70% of wells in Los Angeles County are 1,500 feet or closer to these areas. The bill was sent back was sent back from the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water for reconsideration on Aug. 5 following amendment. It was the fifth time the bill has been amended.

Members of the Culver City council seemed eager to move this process forward. Sahli-Wells noted that the presence of the oil field has technically been a non-conforming land use — one that would not have been approved if applied for after the use was defined as non-conforming — for over 60 years.

The considerations instead came from the potential future uses of the oil field. The major concern of the council was the contaminants in the field and the effective capping of well. Councilmember Daniel Lee described a scene with lines of rusted pipes and other materials that seemed to go beyond the wells themselves, and wanted to emphasize the importance of decontaminating the field and capping the wells in an effective manner. 

While money is also a consideration, there are several loan options that the city can consider for the decontamination and repurposing of brownfields from the Department of Toxic Substances Control, including the Brownfield Revolving Loan Fund Program, Cleanup Loans and Environmental Assistance to Neighborhoods (CLEAN) Program and Investigating Site Contamination (ISC) Program, Targeted Site Investigation (TSI) Program, as well as a potential grant option from the US Environmental Protection Agency. The value of these grants ranges greatly, from as low as $20,000 to as much as $2,500,000.

The council also floated around the idea of taking out a bond that would last beyond the overall remediation to ensure a buffer for any potential accidents, physically or legally, that may occur.

The UCLA paper also provided several options for exactly how to proceed with the Inglewood Oil Field. Based on existing site constraints and topography, as well as the potential for improperly abandoned wells and hazardous soil, the paper suggests the lowest cost option would be a remediation for environmental use due to the difficulty foreseen in placing roads and other infrastructure to handle traffic in the area.

The council will return at a future meeting with more details on the amortization program.

For more information on Culver City’s recent history of action concerning the Inglewood Oil Field, visit the city’s Inglewood Oil Field official site. To read the UCLA report pertaining to the field, visit the Culver City General Plan page at pictureculvercity.com.