City officials are sealing off oil wells in the backyards of two private Echo Park residences.
Both wells are on Firmin Street and are estimated to be more than 1,000 feet deep. According to the LA Times, the decades-old wells were originally part of the Los Angeles City Oil Fields. Over time, the neighborhood grew up around them.
Now, they are starting to smell like rotten eggs.
That’s a problem because an odor like that is often associated with the presence of hydrogen sulfide, a potentially harmful gas that can often emerge from abandoned wells. The California Department of Conservation says the wells don’t pose a threat right now, but they will become more dangerous as they deteriorate over time. The department’s division of oil, gas and geothermal resources has apparently tried to contact the last operators of the wells, because they are responsible for the cost of sealing them. Unfortunately, the division hasn’t had much luck finding the former operators, and the state will have to foot the bill.
Wells like these aren’t unusual in Los Angeles. Once the center of oil production in the United States, the area is home to thousands of wells—many of them still active. Abandoned wells are common in areas like Echo Park, where Edward Doheny first struck oil in 1892. They’ve been dubbed “orphan wells.”
The city’s relationship with the oil industry is complicated. Since 1977, more than 1,350 of these orphan wells have been sealed at an expense of more than $27 million. But, because early drilling in the region was largely unregulated, many older wells were not properly sealed. More troublingly, a 2015 internal audit of the division itself showed that the regulatory agency has been remarkably lax in its inspections of many active wells. The audit found that since 2007, most drilling projects had not received a required annual review.