Fracking in California
Urban Oil Extraction
Los Angeles sits directly atop the nation’s largest urban oil field, where there are thousands of active wells within a short distance of homes and schools. Nearly all of the oil wells that exist in densely populated L.A. communities were initially drilled in the early 20th century, and have been allowed to re-open after decades of inactivity without obtaining new permits or notifying nearby residents.
In Los Angeles, oil drilling is taking place in the middle of urban communities where the potential risks to human health and safety are magnified by high population density. Recent reports estimate that 70% of the 5,194 active oil wells in LA are located within 1500 feet of sensitive land use areas like homes, schools, and hospitals.
The increased use of high-intensity oil extraction techniques, like acidization and hydraulic fracturing, in such close proximity to homes and schools, have introduced new risks to the surrounding community. These methods involve hazardous chemicals and air toxins that can have significant impacts on human health, safety, and the environment, and disproportionately threaten Los Angeles’ most vulnerable communities. Sixty-seven percent of Angelenos who live within a quarter mile of an oil or gas well are Hispanic/Latino, and these communities often already struggle with the negative health impacts of air pollution and toxic waste.
Inglewood Oil Fields
Covering approximately 1,000 acres, the Inglewood Oil Field is one of the largest urban oil fields in the United States. Located in the northwestern portion of the L.A. Basin, more than one million people live within five miles of the oil field. Operated primarily by Freeport-McMoRan Oil and Gas, the field contains 959 wells extracting more than three million barrels of oil a year.
Residents and local organizations have expressed concerns about the environmental, health, and seismic effects of drilling in the community. The oil field “is adjacent to residential areas and other urban land uses where emissions from the operations result in continuous human exposure.” In 2006 noxious fumes – methane gas and hydrogen sulfide- leaked out from deep drilling sites in two separate incidents, forcing home evacuations and spurring years of litigation by local residents and community groups.
Until recently, AllenCo Energy operated 21 oil wells, some of which use acidization on land leased by the Catholic Church. AllenCo purchased the 2-acre site, which borders low-income housing, day care centers, and numerous schools, in 2009 and quickly increased oil production by over 400%.
Soon after, nearby residents began to experience serve respiratory problems, nosebleeds, headaches, nausea, and other symptoms. After over 250 official complaints and repeated protests, the EPA investigated AllenCo, only to fall ill while inspecting the site. Following their visit, the EPA temporarily shut down the site and fined AllenCO $99,000. AllenCo and the Catholic Church are currently working to reopen the site. Allenco has also come under scrutiny from the L.A. City Attorney’s Office and the South Coast Air Quality Management District.
Freeport-McMoRan Oil and Gas (FMOG) operates 22 active oil and wastewater injection wells at 2126 Adams Street on land leased by the Catholic Church. Since FMOG took over the site in 2013, neighbors have complained of sickening fumes from the toxic waste incinerators at the 3-acre site and have reported suffering from respiratory problems, chronic nosebleeds, skin and eye irritation, and headaches.
FMOG has been cited for a number of zoning abuses and air quality and health infractions. In January 2013, SCAQMD inspectors visiting the site recorded methane readings of 20,000 ppm—400% higher than the legal limit. A concentration of methane at 50,000 ppm is explosive. Freeport-McMoRan is currently attempting to expand their operations into a neighboring park. Their application is pending review by the Planning Department.
Freeport-McMoRan Oil and Gas (FMOG) operates 3 oil wells at 1375 Jefferson Boulevard 85 feet from homes and schools. Freeport-McMoRan’s July 2014 acid job used over 24,000 pounds of acid to aid oil recovery. Recently, residents have complained about the loud noises resulting from the round the clock drilling and are worried about the long term impacts of potential exposure to the acids used in the well stimulation treatments.
In November 2014, FMOG applied to drill two new wells and re-drill one existing well at the Jefferson site. The application was withdrawn in January 2014 amidst community outcry and dropping oil prices, however oil extraction at the existing wells continues.
Wilmington Oil Field
Wilmington Oil Field is Los Angeles Basin’s largest field in area and output. It extends from Torrance to Seal Beach, and includes drilling operations in Long Beach, Wilmington, and Carson. Since the oil field’s discovery in 1932, more than 6,150 wells have produced close to 3 billion barrels of oil. The majority of oil extracted from Wilmington Field is pulled from the offshore portions of the field from four artificial islands build in 1964; however, there are a number of active onshore drill sites in close proximity to homes and schools.
In years past, scientists estimated that it might not be profitable to continue to extract oil from the field; however, new technologies like water flooding, steam flooding, and gravel packing have allowed oil companies to tap previously unrecoverable reserves.
Oil was first discovered in Signal Hill in 1921. Today, drill sites dot the landscape across the small town. Popping up in residential communities and parking lots, some wells are as close as 200 feet from homes and schools.
The Aliso Canyon Oilfield borders the residential neighborhood of Porter Ranch. Recently, The Termo Company applied to drill 12 new oil wells in addition to the 18 wells already in operation.
Residents living near the oil field have complained of petroleum odors and loud noises from the trucks carrying chemicals to the drill sites, and they suspect that the respiratory issues and chronic nosebleeds they suffer from are connected to the nearby drilling operations.