Oct. 10, 2012
-- A long awaited, and much hyped, study released Wednesday, October 10 states that the controversial oil extraction method of hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking,”
would not harm the environment surrounding the Inglewood Oil Field in the Baldwin Hills area of Los Angeles County. Fracking has opened up previously inaccessible pockets of oil and natural gas trapped in shale rock formations thousands of feet below the Earth’s surface. The newly accessible oil and natural gas deposits have propelled the United States to the forefront of world natural gas production. The yearlong study was spurred in part by residents in the area who are concerned about potential risks associated with fracking, such as groundwater contamination, air pollution, and an increase in seismic activity. For nearly 12 months, water wells on the 1,200 acre field were monitored. Data from ground and air monitors were collected and analyzed, but no abnormalities were observed before or after the technique was used, according to the study. "There were eight contributing studies addressing such things as vibrations at the surface, microseismic activity at depth, noise, ground movement measurements, subsidence, groundwater quality, methane in both soil and groundwater,"
said Dan Tormey, technical director and principal at Cardno Entrix, the environmental consulting firm that conducted the study. "Each was a study that contributed to the [overall] hydraulic fracturing study."Plains Exploration and Production Co., the owner and operator of the oil field, paid for the study as part of a settlement agreement with Culver City and local environmental, as well as community, groups. The results obtained by the study were further reviewed by two independent environmental consulting firms selected by the company in concordance with Los Angeles County.
The 206 page study is the first of its kind in California. It could not have been published at a more pertinent time for the oil and gas industry, when environmental and community groups are urging lawmakers to ban fracking – a technique which literally fractures rock formations to release trapped oil and natural gas. The main point of scrutiny of the drilling technique is that the process involves a high-pressure injection of water, sand, and chemical additives into the drill site’s wellbore. Chemicals that community organizations worry will leak into the water table. Fracking has come under scrutiny in other parts of the country where shale gas has become accessible in the past several years. Allegations that the technique increases seismic activity and can contaminate water supplies have whipped the public into a frenzy, smearing fracking as a risky and dangerous oil extraction method.
Situated two miles south of the I-10 Freeway, Los Angeles’ main commuter corridor in and out of the city, the field is surrounded by Culver City, Baldwin Hills, and Inglewood – effectively making it the largest urban oil field in the country. Los Angeles experienced a boom during the roaring ‘20s as prospective oil barons relocated to the West Coast and began drilling all over L.A. County. Famously, there is still an active oil derrick on the campus of Beverly Hills High School, hidden within a nondescript building. Plains Exploration is hoping to tap into reserves in the field’s shale formations that were identified back in 2003, before fracking had been developed into a viable drilling method. Despite the positive results of the study, people living around the field still oppose the idea of fracking. Residents claim that their properties have been damaged by “mysterious land shifts,” which have increased their fears about fracking. Some homeowners speculate that the movements may be related to Plains Exploration’
s drilling operations in the area. Despite hearsay, the actual cause is unclear – though the area does sit atop the Newport-Inglewood Fault. Gary Gless, a resident of the area and spokesman for Citizens Coalition for a Safe Community, said he was not surprised that the study’s findings gave fracking the go-ahead. “We have to look at who the peer reviewers are and have other experts critique [the findings],” he said.