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Environment

Could Fracking in Los Angeles Cause an Earthquake?

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Wed, May 16, 2012 at 11:34 AM
click to enlarge Tuesday's event at Kenneth Hahn Soccer Fields, adjacent to the Inglewood Oil Field. - TESSA STUART
  • Tessa Stuart
  • Tuesday's event at Kenneth Hahn Soccer Fields, adjacent to the Inglewood Oil Field.

Conversations about fracking, the controversial technique for natural gas extraction (alternately known as "that thing that turns your tap water flammable") are typically confined to Pennsylvania, where the critically acclaimed documentary Gasland was set, or the state of New York, currently debating whether or not it will allow fracking after a four-year hiatus for environmental review.

Don't feel left out, Angelenos, we've got fracking here too! And it might even be more dangerous than the kind that has allegedly poisoned drinking water and polluted the air in the Midwest and on the East Coast -- because injecting a high-pressure mixture of chemicals into the Earth to create fissures that release natural gas could have the effect of triggering a massive earthquake here in Southern California.

The Inglewood Oil Field in Baldwin Hills is the largest urban oilfield in the nation -- more than one million people live within five miles of the site -- and it sits atop a fault line capable of 7.4 magnitude earthquake. Which might be why Citizen's Coalition for a Safe Community and Food and Water Watch chose the little league field adjacent to the oil field as the site for a press conference Tuesday announcing a statewide campaign to ban the practice.

Drilling at the Inglewood Oil Field dates back to 1926, but the oil reserves were thought to be sucked dry ... until 2004, when PXP got the greenlight to drill three new wells.

On January 10, 2006, fracking at the Inglewood Oil Field released a cloud of fumes so toxic that residents of Baldwin Hills and Culver City were forced to evacuate their homes. That incident prompted a lawsuit by members of the community, settled in 2011. Under the terms of the settlement PXP would have to monitor air quality, cut down on the noise and reduce the number of wells from 600 to 500 by the year 2028.

According to a letter from PXP to Larry Jaramillo of the Los Angeles County Zoning Enforcement, in August of last year California's Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources once again approved fracking on the property.

After an appearance at Tuesday's press conference, Gasland director Josh Fox joined environmental writer Bill McKibben on stage at UCLA's Hammer Museum for a forum on fracking and the Keystone Pipeline. During the talk, Fox pointed out that scientists from the US Geological Survey recently released a study saying the six-fold increase in earthquakes felt in Colorado, Oklahoma and Arkansas since the inception of drilling in the areas was "almost certainly manmade."

The study, presented last month at a meeting of the Seismological Society of America, says that for three decades, 1970-2000, there were an average of 21 seismic events in the US midcontinent. Those numbers spiked once oil and gas companies began fracking in the region: there were 50 events in 2009, 87 in 2010 and 134 in 2011. USGS scientists found there was "strong evidence" linking the increase in earthquakes to fracking practices. The abstract of the study is available online.

The strong link between fracking and the increase in earthquakes is why, Fox pointed out Tuesday, it might not be a great idea to drill in Baldwin Hills at a site that sits directly atop the Newport-Inglewood Fault.

At the same time anti-fracking activists (and at least one heckler from the oil and gas industry) gathered in Baldwin Hills on Tuesday, the Western States Petroleum Association was releasing a survey in which member oil companies self-reported using hydraulic fracturing on 628 wells in California last year.

California, which ranks fourth in oil production nationally, has imposed tougher regulations on fracking than exist at the federal level, but the state does not require oil companies to disclose whether they employ the controversial technique, nor which chemicals they use. Citizen's Coalition for a Safe Community and Food and Water Watch are looking to change that -- by having the practice banned in California altogether.

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