Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson on Wednesday introduced a motion calling for a study of the feasibility of enacting a half-mile buffer zone around all oil drilling operations in the city, a move that could ultimately lead to the shutdown of hundreds of wells.

Wesson’s motion would direct city planning and zoning staff to study the feasibility of adding a 2,500-foot buffer zone between all active oil and gas drilling sites and homes, schools, churches and healthcare facilities.

“With this motion, the City of Los Angeles will do the necessary work to study the feasibility of adding a health and safety buffer to the city’s zoning code,” Wesson said in a statement. “I’m hopeful the study will provide insight into the systemic improvements needed to further protect every Angeleno from the health impacts of oil and gas extraction in residential neighborhoods.”

According to a statement from local activist group Stand Together Against Neighborhood Drilling - Los Angeles, more than 580,000 people in Los Angeles currently live less than a quarter mile from an active oil well. The group said there is increasing scientific evidence that individuals living within 2,500 feet of active drilling sites are at increased risk for respiratory, neurological, and reproductive health effects as well as for cancer.

“Council President Wesson’s motion represents an important a first step toward implementing a setback measure that could protect Angelenos from dangerous neighborhood oil drilling,” said Reverend Kelvin Sauls, Senior Pastor at Holman United Methodist Church, a member of the STAND-LA Coalition. “(W)e believe the only sensible solution for the health of residents and the environment of our city (is) a buffer prohibiting oil and gas drilling operations within 2,500 feet of homes, schools, hospitals, and other sensitive land uses.”

But Rock Zierman, chief executive of the California Independent Petroleum Association, said the city needs to tread very carefully.

“If the Council proceeds with this study, it needs to take into account the economic impact of banning local energy jobs, the loss of state and local taxes, the legal exposure the city will face from an illegal taking of private property, as well as the increased dependence on imported foreign oil tankered into LA’s ports,” Zierman said.

Public policy and energy reporter Howard Fine can be reached at hfine@labusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @howardafine.

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