By Nick Diamantides
For many years, the residents of the Wrigley Heights area have been pressing the City of Long Beach to purchase an approximately 20-acre site known as the “Oil Operators Property” and to convert it into a passive green space. For a variety of reasons, including budget restraints, the City has not been able to buy the land, which is located west of the corner of Golden Avenue and Baker Street. Meanwhile, many of the residents in the area have become angry and distrustful of Oil Operators, Inc. (OOI), the company that owns the land. Over the years, the company has proposed several developments on the site, which would have thwarted residents’ wishes to have a park developed there. Furthermore, rumors have abounded that OOI is secretly allowing the dumping of toxic liquid waste on the property.
During the April 19 monthly meeting of the Wrigley Area Neighborhood Alliance (WANA), OOI President Trent Rosenleib explained what the company is and what it is doing with the land. About 40 people attended the meeting, which took place at the community center of Veterans Park.
“Oil Operators was incorporated in 1926,” he said, explaining that all OOI members are representatives of the oil and gas companies that operate in the area, and a small oil/gas company employs him. “We are an all-volunteer organization– we have no paid employees,” he stressed. “Our only function is to gather the water that is produced with oil and gas operations.” He noted that water is a byproduct of oil and natural gas extracted from the ground.
“We gather water from member wells in Signal Hill and Long Beach, and this is funded entirely by the members,” he said. “We don’t have any revenue-generating activities.”
Rosenleib explained that presently OOI is gathering water from oil and gas wells throughout Long Beach and Signal Hill and transporting that water through a system of pipelines to a central processing facility in Signal Hill. After the water is processed, it is transported by more pipelines to the Long Beach Harbor where it is re-injected deep under the ground as part of enhanced oil-recovery operations. “When we are not able to send it there, we discharge our water into the L.A. County sanitation system using the permits that we have with them,” Rosenleib said. “Although there is a little bit of oil in the water OOI processes, the company does not generate any hazardous waste in its current operations.”
He added that the site near Golden Avenue is the most visible part of Oil Operators and it was previously used to treat the oilfield-produced water.
“We transitioned out of that site in the late 1990s and started gathering all our water at the facilities located in Signal Hill,” he said.
Rosenleib told the audience that he was aware of the bad publicity surrounding OOI and he came to dispel false rumors and assure the community that the company cares about the health and well-being of the residents who live close to the 20-acre site. “To the best of our knowledge, Oil Operators never used that property to bury hazardous waste,” he said. “We don’t know of any buried hazardous waste that is there.” He added that OOI has never operated oil wells on the property and there are no abandoned oil wells there.
“Oil operators has only accepted approved non-hazardous waste at our site,” Rosenleib insisted. “Oilfield-produced water is deemed a non-hazardous byproduct of the production, and it is exempt under certain government regulations.”
Rosenleib also noted that OOI currently operates four groundwater-monitoring wells on the property, samples water every three months and submits water analysis results to the regional Water Quality Control Board.
“Since 2004, we have an active land-farming operation going on toward the south end of the property,” he said. “We add water and nutrients to the soil, keeping it tilled so it gets plenty of oxygen, which allows the soil to bioremediate in place.” He explained that bioremediation is the natural process whereby bacteria consume oil and its byproducts and convert those substances into harmless nutrients that can be absorbed by plants. Quarterly reports of the bioremediation process are also submitted to the Long Beach Health Department.
Rosenleib said in February 2010 the Water Quality Control Board required OOI to develop a plan for increased studies of the soil and groundwater. “The plan was submitted to the Board at the end of March, and we are waiting for the board to either approve or modify the plan,” he said. “It was not requested, but we will also be doing a soil vapor study to see if there are any vapors migrating from our site and impacting the neighborhoods.” He added that the studies will likely result in more clean-up actions at the site.
After his presentation, Rosenleib asked the audience for questions and comments. At that point, Wrigley Heights resident Julie Curtis stood up and challenged Rosenleib. “I don’t want any of you in this room to think that it’s this beautiful, glorious picture that he is presenting,” she said. “Take it with a huge grain of salt. Look into it. It’s not what he is saying it is.”
Curtis claimed that she has lived in the area since she was a little girl and she remembers when several local manufacturing companies had a regular habit of dumping toxic chemical waste on the site.
“I understand the passion that all of you feel,” Rosenleib said in response. “Oil Operators will do what needs to be done on the property.”
WANA board member Joan Greenwood added, “If the additional studies show that there are toxic substances present, they will be dealt with.”