At the special city council meeting on August 13, 2020, the council took another crucial step towards closing the Culver City portion of the Inglewood Oil Field. City Council discussed a future of litigation, amortization, and directed staff to develop a framework and timeline for the phase out of active wells.
Council member Sahli-Wells opened the meeting with a brief summary on phasing out current use of the oil field, a stance that the Oil Drilling Subcommittee has been approaching with both stealth and success.
Baker & O’Brien Incorporated, the firm commissioned by the City to conduct the amortization study, reviewed their findings at the meeting, which included an assessment of the land. They determined the property itself is valued at approximately $4.64 million.
There were, of course, many voices wanting to be heard on the topic. Callers representing labor and environmental organizations – some as expected as the Sierra Club and the NRDC, some as surprising as the Steelworkers Union and the California Nurses Association.
While voices came from all over California and added comments both pro and con, locals were generally in support of the amortization.
However, Colin Diaz, President of the Chamber of Commerce, asked the city to not move forward with amortization, citing the city’s shrinking coffers amidst a leveled economy and half a year after the city declared a fiscal emergency.
“The financial crisis facing our city will not abate anytime soon,” Diaz said. “Amortization is a legally risky strategy.”
Referring to the cost, not only of implementing the strategy, but of a lawsuit the city anticipates will be filed against them by Sentinel Peak Resource, the owner of the Inglewood Oil Field since 2017, if a phase out plan is approved.
Still, the price of not moving forward with a plan to dismantle operations could be exceedingly costly as well. The oil industry in California has been notably fragile in recent years, on some occasions leaving tax payers to foot the clean-up bill when operations cease.
One point of contention came when a speaker, Jennifer Rivera, a representative of the California Independent Petroleum Association, spoke against amortization and said the oil field brings in over $250,000 in tax revenue for Culver City. Sahli-Wells later had the City Attorney clarify (without exposing exact numbers) that the oil field does not produce taxable revenues even close to that number.
The gap between Rivera’s comment and the city attorney’s correction exposes one of the central challenges that the city has had to deal with through all three oil companies that have held drilling rights for the last decade (PXP, FreeportMcMorrin, and Sentinel Peak is the third.) Petroleum puts much more energy into public relations than they do into verifiable facts.
“Culver City’s leadership is showing other local governments how to start a just and equitable transition away from dirty fossil fuels and toward clean energy,” Damon Nagami, an attorney with The Natural Resources Defense Council called into the meeting. “This type of phase-out of oil drilling operations needs to happen across our state and country today, not tomorrow.”
The council decided to move forward and direct city staff to further study and produce a framework to potentially phase out the oil field.
“Living near a site like that comes at a deadly cost,” said Bubba Fish, a resident who said he lives two miles from the Oil Field. “It’s really important to have healthy air.”
Ethan Senser of the organization Food & Water Action stated “Once we agree that fossil fuel infrastructure does not belong near our homes, we can start the conversation on what communities actually need instead.”