Allenco Energy Co. facility (photo: Nick Ut, Associated Press)
It took years of complaints from neighbors that the Allenco Energy Inc. oil facility, south of downtown Los Angeles, was making them sick—respiratory problems, nausea, headaches, nosebleeds and the like—before serious attention was paid to the problem.
On Wednesday, two months after investigators for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suffered some of the same symptoms while touring the facility, Allenco was hit with a series of citations for violating the federal Clean Water and Clean Air Acts.. EPA regional administrator Jared Blumenfeld told the Los Angeles Times that findings from the November 6 inspection were worrisome because they “go to the heart of how a safe operation is supposed to be run.”
That month, Allenco voluntarily closed the facility—located ajacent to a low-income residential neighborhood—shortly after Senator Barbara Boxer (D-California) suggested that would be a good idea.
The EPA press release didn’t say its list of violations was in order of importance, but the first one seemed a likely candidate if it were. Allenco didn’t “inspect pressure vessels, steel piping, steel tanks, or perform thickness and corrosion rate tests in piping.”
Other violations included bad personnel training, an inaccurate map of the facility, missing inspection records, lousy emergency contact preparation, poor care of methane and flame detectors, and tardy implementation of its required Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure plan.
The company has until January 27 to respond.
The oil facility consists of five wells that have been intermittently in operation since the 1960s. Allenco has been the operator since 2009, according to the EPA, but the property is owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
The wells were closed in 1999, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, when market prices and oil dissipation made it unprofitable to continue. But technology advances, including acidization, made the site profitable again. Acidization injects large amounts of hydrochloric or hydrofluoric acid into wells to dissolve rock formations and allow easier access to gas and oil.
Production resumed in 2005 and increased 400% between 2009 and 2010, according to the state. That was about the same time neighborhood complaints skyrocketed.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) received hundreds of complaints since 2010 about noxious odors and illness. The 2-acre site is a half mile from the University of Southern California (USC). The state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources and the L.A. County Department of Public Health are also poking around Allenco.
L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer sued last week to keep them shut while matters proceed.