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Long-Awaited Study of Fracking in Southern California Oil Field Is Released

Damon Nagami

Posted October 10, 2012

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Late last night, Plains Exploration and Production Company (PXP) released a long-awaited study on the oil drilling company’s hydraulic fracturing operations at the Inglewood Oil Field in the Baldwin Hills area of south Los Angeles. While it took a year to compile the study, this report actually was years in the making as it comprised one of a host of new requirements imposed on PXP through a July 2011 settlement that resolved a lawsuit brought by NRDC and three other plaintiffs in 2008.

The study appears to have found that two test frack jobs at the Inglewood field did not result in adverse impacts to groundwater or community health, nor did they cause additional ground movement or subsidence. We are reserving judgment until we’ve had a chance to carefully review all of the study’s findings, as well as the hundreds of pages of dense, technical information the author has offered to support those findings.

This is the first study of its kind in California, and as such it is attracting a lot of attention from policymakers, elected officials, the affected communities and the general public. The study might contain information that could prove useful to state regulators when they issue draft fracking regulations later this year. However, we need to keep this study in perspective, as its scope is limited to the Inglewood Oil Field, and thus it wouldn’t be appropriate to apply its findings more broadly to fracking operations in other parts of the state or the country.

We also are keenly aware that this study was funded by PXP, an oil company, and peer reviewed by at least one expert, John P. Martin, with ties to the oil and gas industry. Therefore, we need additional review from independent experts who have no financial stake in the study’s outcome. We will be seeking our own experts, but I also would recommend that California agencies with the appropriate expertise take a close look at this study and provide the public with their comments. Agencies such as the State Water Resources Control Board, the South Coast Air Quality Management District, the Department of Toxic Substances Control, the Department of Public Health and possibly others should weigh in and help the public understand whether the study’s findings are supported by sound science.

I also would add that these reports – both the main fracking study and the supplemental report conducted by Halliburton – seem to have a wealth of potentially useful information that may not previously have been made available to the public. I have said repeatedly that one of the biggest problems with regard to fracking in California is the lack of publicly available information, so these reports are a promising step forward, provided that our state regulators and other independent experts can confirm the accuracy and usefulness of this information.

Finally, we should not lose sight of the fact that this study is one piece of a comprehensive regulatory overhaul at the Inglewood Oil Field that NRDC and others have been working on for many years. Protecting the health of the vibrant urban communities in the Baldwin Hills has been our priority, and will remain so as long as active drilling continues at the largest urban oil field in the country.

Photo credit: NRDC

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Kim FeilOct 10 2012 07:42 PM

I live at ground zero for urban drilling. And for California to start fracking has me surprised since they have strict pollution laws. We have about 60 padsites in our 99 sq mile town here in Arlington TX. The following requests won't cover public protections on the huge buildout and the associated human errors or accidents. We had a drill spill in Lake Arlington, our drinking source, a couple of years ago and have had maybe a dozen emission events over the last couple of years that I am aware of.

These are the items that our drilling ordinance lacks .....
1. Use electric (not diesel) rigs in urban areas.
2. Video tape ALL cement casing pours when it comes back up to the top through the annulus so that there is proof of an even pour and ensure all wells have electric bond log tests.
3. All drilling mud farming (private & commercial) and brine "road spraying" is subject to open records of water & soil test results.
4. We need the industry to invent technology to keep the toxic, silica dust on the padsite-those pathetic pillow case looking socks aren't getting the job done.
6. We shouldn't have to wait 2.5 years for the EPA mandated Green Completions and allow venting or flaring in urban or rural areas....methane losses should be prevented-period.
7. The pipeline should be in place FIRST before fracturing so that flowback doesn't sit in the ground for months festering some unknown, man-made hydrogen sulfide-like stale water flowback.
8. The setback away from people should be substantial. Rural method drilling is not acceptable in urban areas. A doctor who is an environmental tester said that the health effects are being seen downwind from about 1,800 - 2,500 feet.
9. Zero tolerance for underinspected, or faked Waste Disposal Injection Well casing pressure tests which risks eventual migration of toxic fluids into our drinking supplies.

I hope that Californians takes heed to what we missed and will elect officials that will ensure a protective Oil & Gas Drilling regualtions (state and local). This is in our "collective" power so we must all become active to be proactive because reactive measures are too costly.


Duncan EarleOct 19 2012 08:54 PM

I am writing just to say I want to learn more about California fracking, and how to get involved with local communities in the Baldwin Hills area, and LA generally. Seems most people out here are clueless or believe their clueless state agencies. Way behind the East, where I just moved from.

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