In Carson, California, Shell Oil used to have an oil tank farm. Then, thanks to America’s lax environmental regulatory state, a housing development was built on top of it when Shell no longer needed it. Shell claims the land is safe and they have no responsibility for it. Residents say their soil is poisonous. Soil tests taken five years ago show elevated levels of benzene and petroleum. Residents claim an array of health problems The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Board has ordered Shell to clean up the soil, but there is significant debate over whether to clean it up right now as an emergency or do the necessary testing that would delay the cleanup for a year. Shell is unhappy.
A dark side of southern California’s landscape is the legacy of nearly a century of oil production. You don’t always see that legacy, but it’s there. It became famous during the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill that spawned an array of environmental legislation, but the roots go back to the early 20th century, as does local resistance to it. Too often, corporations get away with improper cleanup, leaving a legacy of pollution for residents, often the poor who can afford to buy houses in a ecologically degraded neighborhood.