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Winner of Battle With Exxon, Wilmington Gets Ready for BKK : Its Production Threatened, Oil Firm Agrees to Clean Up Wells

June 12, 1986|DAVID FERRELL | Times Staff Writer

Threatened with a six-month ban on oil production in Wilmington, Exxon U.S.A. has agreed to fence, paint and landscape more than 400 wells because of escalating community complaints over weeds and trash on the drilling sites.

The agreement, hammered out between Exxon officials and Los Angeles Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores, was described as a significant effort to clean up Wilmington, a largely residential area that has the greatest concentration of oil wells--more than 100 per square mile--in Los Angeles.

Well sites scattered throughout residential and industrial parts of the community have become overgrown by weeds, and covered with dust and debris, including abandoned sofas and beer bottles, Flores' chief deputy Bernie Evans said.

"We have a tremendous glut of oil wells in the community . . . and they've really gone to hell," Evans said. "They've become a dumping ground and an eyesore."

400 to Be Improved

Nelson Hernandez, an aide to Flores who helped draft the proposal for an oil-production ban because of the unsightly wells, said the commitment by Exxon, outlined Tuesday before the City Council's Planning and Environment Committee, will lead to beautification of more than 400 wells at 240 sites in Wilmington by the end of 1987.

In a letter to Flores establishing the agreement, area manager R. H. Weaver of Exxon's Western Division emphasized the firm's attempt to cooperate with city officials by pointing to three wells that have been modified as part of a pilot cleanup project. The firm spent several months designing the fencing and landscaping and making improvements at the wells, a company representative said.

Each of the remaining well sites will get about $4,000 worth of improvements, including new chain-link and redwood fencing, paint for rusted equipment, new trees and shrubbery and gravel to eliminate dust problems, Hernandez said. Weeds and trash will be removed.

The agreement has made city officials confident that they will win similar commitments from other oil producers in the eight-square-mile community, Hernandez said. By July, he said, city officials hope that cleanup work will be scheduled for all 830 wells in Wilmington, including 655 active wells and more than 170 inactive ones located at about 400 drilling sites.

Hernandez 'Very Pleased'

In return, officials expect to drop plans for a production moratorium in Wilmington, site of the state's fifth-largest producing oil field.

"We're very pleased," Hernandez said Tuesday. "We're planning to use the same approach (with other companies) as we did with Exxon. We'll meet with them, show them the problem and make them know we're serious about it."

Peter Mendoza, president of the 500-member Wilmington Homeowners Assn., said the agreement would help solve a problem that has gone uncorrected for at least 15 years.

"It's very, very important," he said. "It's time it happened. It should really make a difference as far as the quality of life here."

Despite the importance of the Wilmington Oil Field, which yields nearly 40 million barrels of crude oil each year, the condition of wells has become an increasing concern among some residents. Councilwoman Flores, who represents Wilmington and the Los Angeles Harbor area, earlier this year accused oil companies of "mass neglect" in the maintenance of their properties.

Flores proposed the production moratorium last month after oil companies seemed to be slow in responding to cleanup pressures, Hernandez said.

Exxon spokesman D. I. Bolding said the firm has been involved since the late 1960s in a multimillion-dollar effort to clean up the Wilmington Oil Field. Exxon has consolidated wells operated by more than 100 oil drillers, installed centralized production equipment and removed unnecessary equipment, Bolding said.

But the effort has not kept up with weeds and trash at the wells, he said.

"Abandoned cars are a major problem," Bolding said. "One year we logged just the number of mattresses and couches people would throw onto our property. It was in the 500s."

Cleanup Schedule

Bolding said the agreement gives Exxon, for the first time, clear direction in how wells should be designed and maintained under zoning laws in Wilmington.

In his letter to Flores, Weaver outlined a cleanup schedule that calls for Exxon to groom and landscape 70 well sites by the end of this year. The remaining 170 sites will be cleaned up next year, he said.

Hernandez said the commitment is particularly important because Exxon, the largest oil producer in Wilmington, also owns a large share of the wells located in residential portions of the community. More than half of the company's wells are near homes, he said.

Evans said the councilwoman's office hopes to soon establish minimum production levels for wells throughout Wilmington in hopes that some marginal wells will be closed and removed.

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