Recent heatwaves and wildfires have served as an indisputable and urgent reminder that climate change will continue to threaten the quality of life—and the lives—of residents of LA County. In the face of this challenge, the Board of Supervisors has moved in this moment to develop a “Just Transition to Clean Energy Strategy” with the twin goals of creating a more climate resilient Los Angeles County as well as investing in a qualified workforce to assist with the capping of idle and abandoned oil wells.
In a motion introduced Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, co-authored by Supervisor Janice Hahn, that was approved in a unanimous vote, the Board will specifically align policy, legislative and funding efforts to support the transition of the fossil fuel workforce to jobs cleaning up old oil wells. The remediation will be done in a manner that promotes public health and safety while combating climate change.
“It is indisputable that the impacts of climate change are profound and that the need to transition to cleaner, greener sources of energy is urgent. But as we transition, we must ensure it is a just transition,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “There are far too many idle and abandoned wells across this County and State that have not been appropriately capped—and if not addressed, can create significant public health and safety impacts. We have an opportunity here to wed our environmental goals with a meaningful workforce agenda.”
Specifically, the motion directs the County’s Acting Chief Executive Officer, in collaboration with the Directors of the Department of Public Works, Regional Planning (collectively, the County Oil and Gas Team), as well as the Acting Director of the Department of Workforce Development, Aging and Community Services (WDACS), to work collaboratively with a Taskforce comprised of the Sierra Club, United Steelworkers Local 675 and the Building Trades to work with other environmental, labor, and business stakeholders, to develop a strategy to guide this just transition.
As of June 2020, a strike team convened by the County was deployed to assess conditions at all oil and gas facilities within unincorporated areas and found 1,046 active wells, 637 idle wells, and 2,731 abandoned wells within the unincorporated areas. In a 2017 report to the Board, the Strike Team found that many oil wells may have been improperly abandoned in the past or were continuing to be left idle for a long period of time.
The California Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM) which has jurisdiction over monitoring oil drilling activities has historically not had the capacity to monitor drilling operations to ensure abandonment of all idle wells. According to CalGEM, more than 800 oil companies have dissolved over the years without scheduling wells for proper plugging and abandonment or paying enough State fees to cover the costs. This condition can lead to oil and gas pollution, with significant public health and safety consequences.
“As we transition Los Angeles County away from fossil fuels and do our part to address climate change, we need to support and train our current workforce for the green jobs of the future. We don’t have to choose between clean air and good jobs—we can and we must have both,” said Supervisor Hahn, co-author of the motion.
“This just transition motion is an important step forward for protecting workers, community wellbeing, and our environment,” added Associate Director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuels Campaign Monica Embrey. “By ensuring oil and gas companies are responsible for cleaning up their non-producing wells, Los Angeles will promote public health and safety and combat climate change, while at the same time creating ‘high-road,’ family-sustaining jobs for oil workers.”
“The Department of Regional Planning is pleased to participate in this effort, and to coordinate with the Board of Supervisors and our partners in the community, environmental, and business sectors. Regional Planning is actively developing stronger regulations for existing and future oil and gas operations in the unincorporated areas of the County,” said LA County Department of Regional Planning Director Amy Bodek. “We recognize the balancing act necessary to reduce environmental and community impacts from oil and gas operations with the need for economic prosperity. This action is one more step forward in eliminating the negative impacts of these operations on our most disadvantaged neighborhoods while encouraging new job development in an emerging industrial sector.”
According to Gary Gero, Los Angeles County’s Chief Sustainability Officer, “It is critical that while we work to transition our economy out of fossil fuels, we make sure to take care of workers in these polluting industries and ensure they can transition to cleaner and healthier jobs. This motion puts us on the right track to accomplish that.”
The motion also directs the County’s Oil and Gas Team to identify funding strategies to support the just transition effort and to identify priority wells in the County that should be abandoned in a timely manner.