Why Mark Ruffalo Led a Tour of Los Angeles’ Oil and Gas Drilling Operations

The actor has formed a supergroup of film industry activists, aiming to end extraction in the city’s residential areas.

Mark Ruffalo speaks to a bus of entertainment industry leaders and community members about the health and climate impacts of drilling. Photo by Vasco Lucas Nunes.

Eighty years ago, the oil industry ruled Los Angeles, as determined industrialists—the Dohenys, the Gettys, and the Bells—discovered that the West Coast basin contained one of the world’s largest stocks of sour crude. Thousands of oil wells dotted the landscape, turning the city into an international power hub that gave rise to other industries—like movies, aerospace, and home construction. And then slowly, as purer oil was discovered in the Middle East, many of Los Angeles’ wells were shut down.

By the 1960s, oil production was a fraction of what it had been during its apex. Los Angeles’ powerful mayors didn’t even bother assigning full-time personnel to one of City Hall’s most powerful jobs—the petroleum administrator.

Until now.

The city’s oil fields, which had become mere tourist attractions, are being quietly brought back to life by new developments in hydraulic fracking—jarring loose trapped fuel with PPC balls (tiny plastic pellets) and acid shot through layers of terrestrial gunk and rock. The Phoenix-based company Freeport-McMoRan, a major international miner of gold, copper, and cobalt and extractor of oil and gas, has acquired a number of derelict oil fields within sight of housing, shops, and schools in South Los Angeles. Local groups and residents—terrified to discover that the land under their homes was being fractured and replumbed—have called on the city to take action. On February 16, the L.A. City Council passed a resolution, quickly approved by Mayor Eric Garcetti, to hire a petro-czar in the coming weeks to manage the new exploration. “I couldn’t believe that a city that was built on oil no longer had a full-time person dealing with oil,” Garcetti told the Los Angeles Times after the council vote.

But in the wake of the recent methane leak from Southern California Gas Company’s underground storage facility near Porter Ranch, which forced thousands to evacuate their homes in the San Fernando Valley community and sent a wake-up call to city and state regulators, there is a larger battle building over the future of the oil industry throughout California.

Driving through the Inglewood Oil Field, the nation's largest urban oil field. Photo by Vasco Lucas Nunes.

With California Governor Jerry Brown singled out as failing to live up to his claims of being a “green” executive, another Los Angeles industry—entertainment—is leading the charge to shut down oil and gas development in the state by 2030. To raise awareness of L.A.’s urban oil drilling operations, actor Mark Ruffalo—who successfully fought similar oil exploration in New York—took Leonardo DiCaprio, Norman Lear, Rashida Jones, Diane Kruger, Revenant producer Mary Parent, and other industry people on a February 26 tour of the city’s newly revived oil fields, where residents have complained of noxious fumes from neighborhood wells.

“If Governor Brown is going to walk around saying that he is a climate-change hero, then by God, we are going to hold him to his word,” says Ruffalo, who has formed a group called Hollywood United for a Healthy California with “a goal of freeing California from oil and gas extraction.”

“This governor is adding 300 new wells a month to California’s drilling,” Ruffalo says. “He is the most drilling-friendly governor in the United States at this moment.”

On Hollywood United’s website, the group says, “The oil industry has exploited our state for too long. Hollywood, as the most iconic and historic industry California has ever known, is now speaking out to stop climate change and protect our health and environment.” Ruffalo tells GOOD that more than 150 people in the entertainment industry have signed on to the campaign.

Ashley Hernandez, youth organizer with Communities for a Better Environment, shares her story living near oil drilling in Wilmington, California. Photo by Vasco Lucas Nunes.

“We are actors, writers, directors, producers, studio executives, lawyers, agents, managers and publicists,” continues the statement on Hollywood United’s site. “Our industry generates billions of dollars in revenue for California each year.”

The history of oil drilling in Los Angeles stretches back to 1892, when former gold prospector Edward L. Doheny and his partner Charles A. Canfield used a sharpened eucalyptus log to drill the first well in what became the Los Angeles City Oil Field, stretching from the existing Civic Center northwest toward what’s now Dodger Stadium and Elysian Park.

Three years later, the field—by then a skeletal forest of towering derricks—was pumping 750,000 barrels a year. Other fields popped up around the basin and, by the 1930s, 77 million barrels of oil a year were coming out of the city. And there have been environmental issues from the beginning: In 1907, oil storage tanks made from redwood broke and poured thousands of gallons into Echo Park Lake, which promptly caught fire and burned for two days.

Today, Los Angeles County remains home to more than 3,000 productive oil wells that yield 230 million barrels of crude per year. If not for the recent crash in gas prices, activists fear oil exploration in the city would have grown even further by now. The city of L.A.’s oil is close to the surface and easy to find, but the basin’s complex geology gives the crude plenty of nooks and crannies in which to hide and makes any given well’s long-term volume production a tricky proposition. Perhaps more important, the city has sprawled, surrounding all its historic oil fields with houses, shops, schools, and hospitals.

According to STAND-LA, “16,000 people live within a half-mile radius” of the city's Murphy Drill Site. Photo by Vasco Lucas Nunes.

Before the tour of Los Angeles’ wells, DiCaprio took to Twitter to voice his opposition to urban oil exploration. “Oil drilling in L.A. occurs dangerously close to low-income communities of color,” DiCaprio tweeted. “Neighborhood drilling is environmental injustice.” He urged residents to support efforts by STAND-LA, a coalition of community groups opposed to the drilling, to “#Keepitintheground & protect these communities.”

Responding to the concerns of residents in South Los Angeles, earlier this month Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson rallied his colleagues to unanimously adopt a “more proactive approach to ensure that oil and gas production in the city is conducted in the safest manner possible.” But after urging the council to support the hiring of a petroleum administrator, Wesson amended his motion to state that the administrator would be required to have experience working in the oil industry. Activists, meanwhile, want their own say in who is chosen for the job.

“The health impacts and safety threats to residents require a sweeping overhaul of our regulatory system, that has protecting residents’ welfare at its foundation,” STAND-LA said in response to Wesson’s motion. “The city continues to fail to understand the gravity of the regulatory deficiencies, and filling a job position with vague responsibilities without a comprehensive process amounts to another symbolic band-aid that seeks to maintain an antiquated system that does not protect Angelenos. We cannot allow a new petroleum administrator to double down on the city’s broken regulatory framework for neighborhood oil and gas extraction. If the city is going to fill the position, it should be with someone whose training and experience is rooted in protecting public health and safety.”

“We have the biggest urban oil field in the world,” Ruffalo says. “It’s happening right here in the middle of Los Angeles, which is supposed to be the healthy, ‘green’ capital of the world. It’s such a step backwards.”

Norman Lear and Mark Ruffalo. Photo by Tina Daunt.

Ruffalo has been holding Hollywood screenings of Dear Governor Brown, a 20-minute anti-fracking documentary aimed at the governor and directed by Jon Bowermaster (who directed Dear Governor Cuomo during Ruffalo’s campaign against fracking in New York).

Norman Lear, who participated in the oil well tour and is considered something of a Hollywood elder statesman, says in an interview with GOOD that he is deeply concerned about Brown’s position on drilling in California, especially after portraying himself as an environmental renegade at the recent world climate summit in Paris.

“It shocks me that Jerry Brown, of all people, is taking credit for being something he isn’t,” Lear says. “He’s a villain here. He’s allowing this to happen … the people running these oil companies don’t have children living close to this.”

Overlooking one of the oil fields at the Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area in South Los Angeles, Ruffalo says: “Imagine if this were a wind and solar field. It would employ a hundred times more people than the oil and gas industry is putting here right now. So the idea that it’s jobs, that it’s the economy, that’s a load of BS. We need to change this.”

via Collection of the New-York Historical Society / Wikimedia Commons

Fredrick Douglass was born into slavery in 1818. At the age of 10 he was given to the Auld family.

As a child, he worked as a house slave and was able to learn to read and write, and he attempted to teach his fellow slaves the same skills.

At the age of 15, he was given to Thomas Auld, a cruel man who beat and starved his slaves and thwarted any opportunity for them to practice their faith or to learn to read or write.

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via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

On April 20, 1889 at the Braunau am Inn, in Upper Austria Salzburger located at Vorstadt 15, Alois and Klara Hitler brought a son into the world. They named him Adolph.

Little did they know he would grow up to be one of the greatest forces of evil the world has ever known.

The Hitlers moved out of the Braunau am Inn when Adolph was three, but the three-story butter-colored building still stands. It has been the subject of controversy for seven decades.

via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

The building was a meeting place for Nazi loyalists in the 1930s and '40s. After World War II, the building has become an informal pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis and veterans to glorify the murderous dictator.

The building was a thorn in the side to local government and residents to say the least.

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For years it was owned by Gerlinde Pommer, a descendant of the original owners. The Austrian government made numerous attempts to purchase it from her, but to no avail. The building has served many purposes, a school, a library, and a makeshift museum.

In 1989, a stone from the building was inscribed with:

"For Peace, Freedom

and Democracy.

Never Again Fascism.

Millions of Dead Remind [us]."

via Jo Oh / Wikimedia Commons

For three decades it was home to an organization that offered support and integration assistance for disabled people. But in 2011, the organization vacated the property because Pommer refused to bring it up to code.

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In 2017, the fight between the government and Pommer ended with it seizing the property. Authorities said it would get a "thorough architectural remodeling is necessary to permanently prevent the recognition and the symbolism of the building."

Now, the government intends to turn it into a police station which will surely deter any neo-Nazis from hanging around the building.

Austria has strict anti-Nazi laws that aim to prohibit any potential Nazi revival. The laws state that anyone who denies, belittles, condones or tries to justify the Nazi genocide or other Nazi crimes against humanity shall be punished with imprisonment for one year up to ten years.

In Austria the anti-Nazi laws are so strict one can go to prison for making the Nazi hand salute or saying "Heil Hitler."

"The future use of the house by the police should send an unmistakable signal that the role of this building as a memorial to the Nazis has been permanently revoked," Austria's IInterior Minister, Wolfgang Peschorn said in a statement.

The house is set to be redesigned following an international architectural competition.

via Chela Horsdal / Twitter

Amazon's "The Man in the High Castle" debuted the first episode of its final season last week.

The show is loosely based on an alternative history novel by Philip K. Dick that postulates what would happen if Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan controlled the United States after being victorious in World War II.

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via Mike Mozart / Flickr

Chick-fil-A is the third-largest fast food chain in America, behind McDonald's and Starbucks, raking in over $10 billion a year.

But for years, the company has faced boycotts for supporting anti-LGBT charities, including the Salvation Army, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and the Paul Anderson Youth Home.

The Salvation Army faced criticism after a leader in the organization implied that gay people "deserve to die" and the company also came under fire after refusing to offer same-sex couples health insurance. But the organization swears it's evolving on such issues.

via Thomas Hawk / Flickr

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes explicitly announced it was anti gay marriage in a recent "Statement of Faith."

God instituted marriage between one man and one woman as the foundation of the family and the basic structure of human society. For this reason, we believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman.

The Paul Anderson Youth Home teaches boys that homosexuality is wrong and that same-sex marriage is "rage against Jesus Christ and His values."

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In 2012, Chick-fil-A's CEO, Dan Cathy, made anti same-sex marriage comments on a radio broadcast:

I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, "We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage". I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.

But the chicken giant has now decided to change it's says its charitable donation strategy because it's bad for business...Not because being homophobic is wrong.

The company recently lost several bids to provide concessions in U.S. airports. A pop-up shop in England was told it would not be renewed after eight days following LGBTQ protests.

Chick-fil-A also has plans to expand to Boston, Massachusetts where its mayor, Thomas Menino, pledged to ban the restaurant from the city.

via Wikimedia Commons

"There's no question we know that, as we go into new markets, we need to be clear about who we are," Chick-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer Tim Tassopoulos told Bisnow. "There are lots of articles and newscasts about Chick-fil-A, and we thought we needed to be clear about our message."

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Instead, the Chick-fil-A Foundation plans to give $9 million to organizations that support education and fight homelessness. Which is commendable regardless of the company's troubled past.

"If Chick-Fil-A is serious about their pledge to stop holding hands with divisive anti-LGBTQ activists, then further transparency is needed regarding their deep ties to organizations like Focus on the Family, which exist purely to harm LGBTQ people and families," Drew Anderson, GLAAD's director of campaigns and rapid response, said in a statement.

Chick-fil-A's decision to back down from contributing to anti-LGBT charities shows the power that people have to fight back against companies by hitting them where it really hurts — the pocket book.

The question remains: If you previously avoided Chick-fil-A because it supported anti-LGBT organizations, is it now OK to eat there? Especially when Popeye's chicken sandwich is so good people will kill for it?


Oh, irony. You are having quite a day.

The Italian region of Veneto, which includes the city of Venice, is currently experiencing historic flooding. Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro has stated that the flooding is a direct result of climate change, with the tide measuring the highest level in 50 years. The city (which is actually a collection of 100 islands in a lagoon—hence its famous canal streets), is no stranger to regular flooding, but is currently on the brink of declaring a state of emergency as waters refuse to recede.

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