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Oil Firm Charged in Olive Street Ooze

The incident forced an apartment evacuation and the closure and repair of busy L.A. road.

May 26, 2006|Bob Pool | Times Staff Writer

Criminal charges have been filed against a petroleum company blamed for causing oily ooze to coat a Los Angeles street and forcing the evacuation of 130 downtown residents three months ago.

Irvine-based St. James Oil Corp. was named in a nine-count criminal complaint filed Wednesday in Los Angeles Superior Court for alleged violations stemming from the Feb. 20 incident in the 1200 block of South Olive Street.

St. James officials could not be reached for comment. But a spokesman for the city attorney's office said the company could face fines of more than $5,000 for sending "heated injected liquid" and sediment into the street, storm drains and, eventually, Ballona Creek.

St. James faces penalties of up to $1,000 on each of the other eight counts, which include unlawful releasing of unhealthful vapors and liquids, and damaging Olive Street.

The hot, tar-like liquid seeped into the basement of the 99-year-old Iris Apartments, forcing residents to evacuate its 35 units. They had to stay out of their homes for several days, and busy Olive was closed nearly two months as the underground ooze was siphoned out and the roadway stabilized and repaved.

Jonathan Diamond, a spokesman for the city attorney's office, said the company will be arraigned in early July.

St. James operates a pumping facility for a dozen oil wells and for two water-injecting wells at 1325 S. Broadway, two blocks from the Olive Street ooze site. Officials in the state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources earlier said St. James had agreed to pay for the cleanup pending an investigation into whether the company was responsible for the leak.

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