Surrounded by apartment buildings and retirement homes, and less than 1,000 feet from three public schools, an active oil drill site is hidden just behind a green fence and a row of carefully manicured trees. Two gates on either end display signs identifying the Murphy Site, operated by E&B Natural Resources. The signs warn of cancer- and birth defect-causing chemicals, and the possible presence of hydrogen sulfide, an extremely flammable and toxic gas known for its pungent, “rotten egg” odor.

The Murphy Site, which taps the La Cienegas Oil Field, is located in Jefferson Park, a South L.A. neighborhood composed mostly of Black and Latino residents. Those living near the site display “significantly higher prevalence of wheezing, eye and nose irritation and dizziness” as well as reduced lung capacity, according to a 2021 study from the University of Southern California.

The site is not owned by an energy company, though, but by the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles. That’s why some religious activists have been calling on the archdiocese and the city to protect those at risk of exposure to dangerous chemicals by shutting down the site, which has been active since oil wells were first drilled in 1961 after an oil tycoon’s daughter donated the property to the archdiocese. That years-long activism has culminated in a response from the city in late February that places sweeping restrictions on E&B Natural Resources’ operations and represents a huge victory for public health advocates.

“Oil drill sites are fundamentally incompatible with residential neighborhoods,” said Richard Parks, the president and founder of Redeemer Community Partnership, a Christian faith-centered nonprofit whose priorities include keeping South L.A. residents safe from the health effects of urban oil wells. “The Murphy Drill Site should have never been here, and it shouldn’t be here now.”

To progressive Christians like Parks, the damage being dealt to residents is antithetical to the mission of the Catholic Church.

“I’ve reached out to the archdiocese and I’ve said, ‘This is blood money that you’re taking here,'” Parks said. “‘Would you think about breaking this lease out of love for your South L.A. neighbors?'”

He said, “Their answer was no.”

However, a Letter of Determination was released by the city of Los Angeles’ Office of Zoning Administration on Feb. 28. The legally binding document outlines more than 30 conditions, meant to “increase the protection of and to preserve the health, safety and general welfare of the residents and stakeholders of the neighborhood,” that E&B Natural Resources must meet in order to continue operations at the Murphy Drill Site. 

According to the document, E&B Natural Resources is already compliant with many of the conditions, but fails to meet crucial ones like not allowing avoidable “noise, vibration, dust, odor or other harmful or annoying substances” to affect nearby residents. Further, the letter also imposes new conditions and appears to address some of the community’s highest-priority demands, such as the construction of a 45-foot-tall barrier to enclose the site within two years, and the transition to exclusive use of electric power for onsite operations. 

Full story at National Catholic Reporter.