WILMINGTON — Responding to pressure from the community and the Los Angeles City Council, Exxon Co. USA last week launched a massive cleanup of its drilling sites that local officials hope will spark an economic renaissance in nearby residential neighborhoods.
Exxon initiated the project, which will include nearly 400 wells at 250 sites, after completing a pilot program last month at three drilling sites, said Charlie Lyons, the company's local operations manager. The company will paint the wells, erect fences around the sites and plant trees and bushes along the fences, Lyons said. He declined to disclose the cost of the cleanup.
Exxon, the largest oil producer in this petroleum-rich community, will be joined in its cleanup effort later this month by Sun Exploration and Production Co. and Sampson Oil Co., Wilmington's second and third largest oil producers, respectively, Los Angeles city officials said. Together, the three companies operate about 95% of the 655 wells in Wilmington, which is the largest oil-producing community in the city, the officials said.
The voluntary program begins just three months after members of the Los Angeles City Council planning and environment committee threatened to propose a moratorium on oil production in Wilmington because of unsightly drilling sites. Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores, who represents Wilmington, complained to committee members at that time that the oil companies were not cooperating with her efforts to improve the sites.
"We are trying to upgrade Wilmington, and one of the first things we wanted to do was address a major source of blight in the area," Nelson Hernandez, a Flores aide who handles Wilmington issues, said last week. "This was a problem that was longstanding. Wells like these are not acceptable in other parts of Los Angeles or other parts of the county, so why should they be acceptable in Wilmington?"
Residents who live near the wells have long complained that oil companies have allowed many of the drilling properties to deteriorate, causing property values to drop and discouraging homeowners and other businesses from improving their neighborhoods. The unkempt drilling sites also have become favorite illegal dumping grounds for abandoned cars and garbage, residents and city officials said.
While the threatened moratorium has been called off to allow the oil companies to improve the production sites on their own, Flores is working on an ordinance that would make the improvements mandatory, Hernandez said.
Wells Not Regulated
City officials said many of the wells have gone unregulated because they were established in the 1930s before the city had strict conditions regulating the aesthetics of oil wells. Today, the regulations apply to many of the newer wells, but not to the surrounding properties owned by the companies, which in recent years have become the greater eyesore, officials said.
At a meeting late last month, members of the council's planning and environment committee agreed to give the oil companies 90 days to begin the improvements, which city officials expect to be completed by January, 1988. At the end of 90 days, the committee will evaluate the companies' progress and determine if the proposed moratorium should be revived, city officials said.
But planning officials said last week that they expect the companies to continue to cooperate. "They are more than meeting our expectations," said James Crisp, associate zoning administrator. "This is a tremendously successful program."
Peter Mendoza, president of Wilmington Home Owners, and other community leaders welcomed news of the pending cleanup, saying it is important to get local industries and the City Council behind efforts to upgrade Wilmington.
After Them for Years
"We have been after the oil companies to clean things up for years," Mendoza said. "We wrote letters to Exxon and different companies, but I don't think that without the . . . City Council leaning on them we would have gotten anything."
Hernandez said Flores hopes the beautification project, by fencing off the drilling sites, will cut down on illegal dumping and will serve as a catalyst for other improvements.
"We want to create a multiplier effect," Hernandez said. "Hopefully, people will say, 'Hey, look at what is being done,' and they will paint their property, improve the area and bring property values up."