The Urban Oil Fields Edition
On Los Angeles, oil, and environmental damage
Anita Schillhorn van Veen (ASVV) is a friend of WITI and director of strategy at ad agency McKinney in Los Angeles. She writes her own newsletter, which you can read here.
Anita here. One of my favorite parks in Los Angeles is Kenneth Hahn State Park. Compared to its famous cousins Griffith Park and Runyon Canyon, it’s a lesser-known bit of greenery with a Japanese garden and two little lakes packed with fish and birds. On clear days, it has endless views in every direction—deep into the mountains to the east and all the way to the sea in the west. It also has something more surprising for a state park—views of Inglewood Oil Field, the largest contiguous urban oil field in the US.
From several vantage points, you can see hundreds of small pumpjacks nodding lazily against a backdrop of city scape and even the Pacific Ocean. They drape over the hills, extracting around 3 million barrels of oil per year. Their slow movement is hypnotizing and almost picturesque. Dating back to 1924, they’re one of the last vestiges of the industry that fueled Los Angeles’s early growth.
We don’t often think of resource extraction as an urban endeavor. Cities have become hotbeds of knowledge work, and in Los Angeles especially, fame and creativity have been its most well-known industry, from the birth of Hollywood to the Instagram stars posing on the beaches to the infamous TikTok houses that now draw starry-eyed youth from all over the world. But before Hollywood’s visionaries and glamor transformed the city, early-1900s Los Angeles was an oil boomtown.
Why is this interesting?
The Inglewood Oil Fields have become a symbol of many issues related to oil and natural gas today. While the rest of LA gave itself over to commercial and residential real estate, the place that keeps pumping—with all of its health concerns and environmental concerns.
The fields are not only adjacent to a state park, they’re also smack in the middle of a number of popular neighborhoods: Culver City, Baldwin Hills, Ladera Heights, and more. According to the Los Angeles Times, 350,000 Angelenos live within 600 feet of an oil or natural gas well, which is the distance at which people start to be exposed to degraded air. The paper has an interactive map for locals to find if they live in such a danger zone. Residents in areas near urban oil fields have complained about increased risks of cancer, reduced lung function, and asthma.
Because of their location, the Inglewood Oil Fields have become a symbol of environmental injustice. An NRDC report from 2014 says that ninety-two percent of the people who live within a mile of oil and gas developments in California are people of color. Many of the neighborhoods near the Inglewood oil field are affluent Black communities, and yet, according to the Los Angeles Public Health Department, “residents in these predominantly Black communities suffer disproportionately from the effects of disparate standards and lax regulatory controls on polluting industries." Locals have been concerned about the public health and environmental implications of the fields. Just this year the Los Angeles Public Health Department has committed to doing a study on the health impacts. From an environmental perspective, local groups worry about toxic chemicals, methane escape, spoiled aquifers, and increased seismic activity.
There’s change on the horizon and this legacy of Los Angeles is on its way out. Los Angeles is in a constant state of flux; today’s Instagram and TikTok stars pose and ham it up where oil drills once stood. Once the supplier of much of America’s oil and gas, LA is now one of the top cities that purchase Teslas. California is looking at drilling buffers, a 2500-ft zone between any drilling and any new oil fields—a regulation that’s in place in more conservative states like Texas and Louisiana. Culver City, where 10% of the Inglewood oil fields are, has recently decided to wind down drilling and the state has implemented a fracking ban by 2024—exactly 100 years after the first oil prospector tapped into the rivers of black gold in the Inglewood. (ASVV)
Energy source of the day
In one of LA’s more famous parks, you’ll also find an energy source - the Griffith Observatory has a Tesla coil in a cage that’s a joy to visit.
Inglewood is not the only place that extracts oil, but it’s the most visible. There are also all kinds of strange buildings in Los Angeles that disguise drilling sites, including shopping malls, golf courses, and synagogues. (ASVV)
New electric vehicle brand Rivian has opened its first experience space in Los Angeles, a few blocks from former oil fields. (ASVV)
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The state of global banking. Thus far, banks have escaped the worst of the pandemic’s economic impact—they didn’t witness any abnormal losses, major capital calls, or “white knight” acquisitions, as in the last financial crisis. There were plenty of effects on the financial-services industry, though: the acceleration of digital banking, the rise of remote work, and the growing importance of sustainability were marked trends. Get a read on the landscape and what can make a difference for long-term performance in the latest edition of McKinsey’s Global Banking Annual Review.
Thanks for reading,
Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN) & Anita (ASVV)
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