Industry-Funded Study Finds Fracking Safe for Los Angeles

Fracking for oil in Los Angeles County poses no threat to the environment and doesn’t add to the risk of earthquakes, according to a report funded by the owner of one of the largest urban oil fields in the U.S.

The findings come from a yearlong study by Plains Exploration & Production Co., owner of the Inglewood oil field in the Baldwin Hills section of Los Angeles. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, of two test wells revealed no threat to groundwater, air quality or added risk of induced seismic activity, according to the report released yesterday.

The California Department of Conservation will soon release draft rules for fracking, in which millions of gallons of chemically treated water and sand are forced underground to shatter rock and release trapped oil or natural gas. California has generic rules for oil and gas drilling but no specific rules for fracking, which has been linked to water contamination and air pollution in other states.

“The study is limited to this field,” Damon Nagami, senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in an interview. “It’s funded by Plains Exploration. We need additional review by agencies in California with expertise in these issues.”

Fracking is being used widely from North Dakota to Pennsylvania and is credited with boosting U.S. production of oil and gas. California regulators have asked drillers to voluntarily disclose when fracking is used to complete oil or gas wells, according to Don Drysdale, a spokesman for the Department of Conservation. He said the release of the state’s fracking rules is “several weeks away.”

Monterey Shale

In Pennsylvania, companies tapping the Marcellus Shale for natural gas may drill several horizontal wells from a single pad and use 4 million or 5 million gallons of water to fracture the well. California companies drilling for oil in the Monterey Shale typically use single vertical wells that can be fracked with less then 50,000 gallons.

The state senate in May defeated a bill that would have required drillers to notify neighbors in advance of fracking. Separate measures to place a moratorium on fracking and to require that drillers disclose chemicals used in the process died in committee.

“We don’t have a good handle on it,” Drysdale said in an interview.

Oil was first discovered in the area in 1880. A total of 1,475 wells have been drilled in the Inglewood field, which has about 469 active production wells.

Fault Zone

The field, which holds an estimated 400 million barrels of oil, sits atop the Newport-Inglewood Fault Zone. Fracking the two test wells “had no detectable effects on vibration, and did not induce seismicity,” according to the report.

Houston-based Plains hired the consulting firm Cardno ENTRIX to undertake the study as part of a 2011 settlement with Culver City and environmental and community groups. The 1,000-acre Inglewood field is surrounded by Culver City, Baldwin Hills and Inglewood, making one of the largest urban oil fields in the U.S.

“It sounds like the report has found that based on the tests, it doesn’t seem like there were impacts from fracking that we should be worried about,” Nagami said. “It is attracting a lot of attention.”

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