Signal Hill Petroleum’s 20-Year Extension Faces Local Opposition and Statewide Vote

By Jon LeSage
Local residents shared their enthusiasm and support for those voicing opposition to Signal Hill granting an oil company permission for a 20-year extension and the ability to add up to 46 new oil wells.

More than 50 residents filled the Signal Hill council chambers earlier this month, with over 30 of them voicing opposition. Residents voiced concerns and reasons for objecting to the Signal Hill City Council approving a 20-year allowance of a major oil-well permit.

If approved by the city, Signal Hill Petroleum (SHP) would be able to drill up to 46 new oil wells and build up to the same amount of accompanying well cellars across its seven drill sites over a 20-year period. During the June 4 meeting, the City Council reviewed an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) draft on the 20-year permit extension the city is considering granting to SHP. The 300-page report draft was made public on May 6. 

Many of the residents spoke about the odor and noise coming from these active oil drill sites near where they live. They also raised concerns and requested that the city investigate health impacts such as asthma and cancer for people who’ve lived there for years.

No one spoke in favor of the allowance during the city council meeting, and all of the residents attending the meeting appeared to be in favor of opposing the granting of the extension.

The city later announced that a second public hearing on the permit extension would be held on the evening of Monday, June 24, at the Signal Hill Public Library’s Community Room.

It could take up to October or later before the city council takes a final vote on the new permit. The city is waiting for a final EIR to come out, which will go the Signal Hill planning commission for review and approval, and then on to the City Council for a vote.

The city will also be impacted by the November 5 statewide election. Voters will decide on the outcome of the California Oil and Gas Well Regulations Referendum, which would stop Senate Bill 1137 from being enforced.

SB 1137, adopted by the state in 2022, would prohibit the issuance of well permits and the construction and operation of new production facilities within a health protection zone of 3,200 feet from a “sensitive receptor.” Sensitive receptors would include a residence, school, childcare facility, playground, hospital, or nursing home, according to a state senate summary. It also requires establishing strict engineering controls related to these health-protection zones.

All seven of Signal Hill’s drill sites are within that 3,200-foot range.

SHP Wants State Voters to Block SB 1137

The California Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM) is the state agency that would enforce SB 1137 if voters decide that the law can stay in place. On Feb. 3, 2023, CalGEM sent out a notice to oil and gas well operators that the law would be suspended until state voters decide on a November 2024 referendum against that legislation.

SHP spent $3.2 million in support of the referendum that state voters will decide upon in the November election. The oil company was a top spender on this ballot initiative, which is being led by the California Independent Petroleum Association, or CIPA, a trade group representing oil drillers in the state, according to Inside Climate News.

The city had hired Catalyst Environmental Solutions, an environmental consulting firm, to compile and analyze data for the EIR, exploring the environmental and health impacts the 20-year permit would have on the Signal Hill community. In 2017, the firm had been hired by CIPA to analyze the impact of buffer zone requirements on Los Angeles County oil and gas production, according to Inside Climate News.

SHP currently owns 62 oil wells in Signal Hill, and 95% of the Long Beach Oil Field which is made up of 1,550 wells. The oil company has received 10 permit extensions since 1998 for Signal Hill, with their timeframes for each extension ranging from six months to 10 years. 

On June 4, the Signal Hill council chambers were packed with area residents, some of whom carried opposition signs. Local environmental groups joined public speakers in sharing their concerns. Four nonprofit organizations – Sierra Club, Climate Brunch, Food and Water Action, and Center for Biological Diversity – had worked hard at getting the word out on the public meeting.

These groups canvassed Signal Hill neighborhoods in late March and April. Their goal was to block expansion of the oil drills and to get public feedback on the city’s decision. They spent much of that time informing local residents on what the city council would be voting on.

Madison Hobbs, founder of Climate Brunch, said that the groups recently asked the city council to set up a meeting to discuss the issues. After individually emailing all five council members, including the mayor, they met with no reply from two council members, and replies saying that they could not meet on topics outside of the official process from three of them.

Resident comments that they have received through the official process will be included in the final draft of the EIR, the city says.

Results from California voters supporting or rejecting efforts to block SB 1137 in the Nov. 5 referendum will have an effect on what the City of Signal Hill decides to do on this possible SHP permit extension and expansion.

“Recent polling on neighborhood oil drilling, like the one conducted by the California Elections and Policy Poll (CEPP), shows how unpopular it is amongst (California) voters, and that makes me optimistic that come November voters will vote to keep SB 1137,” said Andrea Vega, Southern California Senior Organizer for Food & Water Watch and Food & Water Action. “Also, from the conversations we've had with Signal Hill residents over the past few months and the overwhelming number of public comments at the previous hearing against SHP's proposed drilling expansion, it's clear that residents no longer want oil drilling in their backyards.”

Jon LeSage is a resident of Long Beach and a veteran business media reporter and editor. You can reach him at jtlesage1@yahoo.com.

 

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