Fracking Los Angeles: What Life Is Like on the Country's Biggest Urban Oilfield
Gary Gless in his Baldwin Hills L.A. Neighborhood that sits next to the Inglewood Oil Field.
Photo Credit: Sabrina Artel
The following is from Sabrina Artel's Trailer Talk: The Frack Talk Marcellus Shale Water Project. You can listen to the entire program here.
This unfortunately is not the premise of a new disaster movie in Hollywood, but a real-life, potentially threatening thriller that involves un-regulated and un-reported fracking in Los Angeles. More people are waking up to the threat of hydraulic fracturing and proposed drilling expansion in their yards in the city. Hollywood may be the most visible industry here but oil and gas exploration and production has been staging itself here too for many decades. This issue faces the entire Golden State.
Over 600 wells were hydraulically fractured in California in 2011 according to the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA). In research by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), they report, "The state's failure to confront reality is hardly surprising, since the Division of Oil and Gas of the California Department of Conservation admits that it makes no attempt to monitor, track or regulate hydraulic fracturing in any way."
Imagine this, the extensive 300-acre Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area, duck ponds, picnic benches, Little League field and hiking trails next to the 1,000 acre largest contiguous urban oilfield in the country that has proposed to increase its operations that include fracking. Then add millions of residents that are adjacent to and even abut the field who live in the Baldwin Hills, Windsor Hills, Inglewood, Ladera Heights, Village Green and Culver City neighborhoods among others and the increasing debate and concern about these operations is understandable.
Neighborhood meetings, organizing, lawsuits and research have been done quietly for the last few years in neighborhoods confronted by the risks of drilling on their streets and close proximity to their homes. One volunteer group, Citizens Coalition for a Safe Community (CCSC) has been a leader in researching the operations of the Inglewood Oil Field, currently leased by PXP, in order to access the health, air, water and property risks already felt by the community. In addition they have been litigating, organizing and educating through meetings, mailings and outreach.
The public benefit based Citizens Coalition for a Safe Community was co-founded by Margrit Cheesboro, Paul V. Ferrazzi and Gary Gless in 2008. The founders all live in the surrounding neighborhoods. Ferrazzi has lived in Culver City for 20 years. Ferrazzi states that he would like to see, "A fracking ban on the oil and gas industry in California implemented, if whole countries see the dangers of hydraulic fracturing surely Californians can see the common sense in not accepting anything less than a ban."
When I ask Ferrazzi about his concerns with the current operations by PXP on the Inglewood Oil site he said:
If allowed to hydraulically fracture in the zones they want to exploit the Nodular Shale (8300') and the Sentous (9000-10000') the significant risk and potential to cause an earthquake along the Newport-Inglewood fault. They have admitted they would be within 3200' feet of this major fault which is surrounded by other faulting. There are a number of wells they have already drilled through faults in Inglewood.
The projected plans to drill 100 wells by 2028 into and under residential Culver City at a depth of 10,000 feet horizontally drilled and more than likely hydraulically fractured. This plan also includes the need to drill under Ballona Creek (a recognized navigable waterway) which empties into the ocean at Playa del Rey.
Active oil wells are throughout the city and have become sites of entertainment and leisure, education like the contested Beverly Hills High School well, covered up by parking lots, housing developments, next to hospitals, shopping centers are such an embedded part of this industrial landscape of the city that it's easy to assume everything is safe while picnicking next to La Brea Tar Pits.
Sally Hampton has lived in Baldwin Hills for 31 years. I asked her how living adjacent to the oilfield is impacting her life? She said, "Smelling pollution from the oil fields is stressful because you don't know what is going into your lungs. Too many of my neighbors have gotten cancers and lung problems. Many have died. My own husband was diagnosed with cancer last year and I have had chronic health problems the last 8-10 years. I have come not to trust my regulators to properly regulate the oil and gas industry."
Deborah Attoinese, a Village Green resident, another neighborhood in close proximity to the Inglewood Oil Field says, "Waking up to this nightmare in the last few weeks, which is a sobering reality, I had no choice but to get involved." She made this Stop Fracking Los Angeles video for a June 12th Culver City Protest and meeting.
On June 12th a Ban Fracking Now Protest will take place in front of the Culver City Hall (9770 Culver Blvd) at 5:30 pm followed by the DOGGR Hydraulic Fracturing Workshop and public comment session about "regulating" fracking. CCSC, Food and Water Watch, Grassroots Coalition, Environment Now, Neighborhood Council Empowerment Congress West, and 50,000 Californians support a ban.
Sarbina Artel: There is fracking in Los Angeles and throughout the state of California. Citizens Coalition for a Safe Community (CCSC) is a volunteer citizens organization that was formed in 2008 to deal with the many issues of those living adjacent to the Inglewood Oil Field. Gary Gless is one of the founders of CCSC.
Gary, thank you so much for talking to me. So, I want to talk to you about where you live on the Baldwin Hills/Inglewood Oil Field, which is the largest urban contiguous oil field in the country. I'm wondering if you could talk to me about living adjacent to them, and what your concerns are, share with us why you formed the volunteer grassroots organization Citizens Coalition for a Safe Community (CCSC)?
Gary Gless: I live in Windsor Hills. I've been a long-time resident here. The concerns started back when the oil operator, PXP, at the time was Stocker Resources, did their expansion of the oil field, and a lot of the community members, they were hearing the noises and vibrations in their home. The more we found out about what was going on, more bells went off into what's happening to our community here.
SA: What's the connection between this meeting on June 12th and this study that involves fracking on the oil field in this neighborhood? But also, what are we looking at? When will the green light be given again, officially, to continue with fracking?
GG: The meeting on June 12th is because DOGGR, the agency that oversees oil production, and which happens to be 100% financed by the oil company, they had no requirements to monitor or know of where any of these frack jobs were going. So, fracking was happening all up and down California, and they didn't even know where or even had to have any requirements for the oil operators to notify them that they were putting these chemicals into the ground. This fracking study that's going on basically is input from the community that they want to say, "Well, what are your concerns?" Well, there's a slew of concerns on this. You're using cancer causers, bring them into our community, then you're injecting them in the ground, you're using high volumes of water ... the potential risks of earthquakes, all this.
So, they're taking this information and then trying to come up with some sort of regulations on how this can be done that I don't know how you can regulate an earthquake if you cause it. So, it'll be quite interesting what they come up with on their studies here, how they think they can potentially do it safely in a state that's known for earthquakes and the dangers here.
SA: And Gary, how has this changed your relationship to your neighborhood? To your home? What is the connection for you to human rights issues and to democracy?
GG: My home. Gosh, my home is not my home anymore. It's a place where I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life, and it looks like I'm more or less, at one point, going to just end up having to leave. And people that I thought were protecting us, I mean, that was my belief growing up, that we had elected officials and government agencies that were looking out for us, is not there. The more I look into this, the more I see that the oil companies are the ones that run the country. They have the money, they have the power, and it's just -- people, if we don't get up and scream about what's happening, it's going to be a continuous thing. I've had to put my life on hold just trying to put the word out to the people. And all this stuff ... I mean, all it takes is to go on the web site; look it up yourself. Listen to people; listen to your neighbors; see what's happening in your community, and you'll start screaming, too.
SA: Gary, when was this that you became concerned?
GG: The concern happened basically back in 2006. Then our organization was formed about five years ago when we went to other groups trying to find out more information and realized not everything that we thought was pertinent to the community as the risks and dangers was going out there. So, we formed the organization, Citizens Coalition.
SA: So, you had meetings in your home, in churches, schools throughout the community. Who did you form Citizens Coalition with?
GG: The basic crutch of our organization is with Paul Ferrazzi and Margrit Cheesboro. We have a lot of volunteers that give us a hand when we have our meetings for sign-ups, and we have hundreds of people that at times will show up to a meeting.
SA: You formed it because there was dissatisfaction with some of the neighborhood groups that were dealing with the issue. If you could talk with me a little bit about what you mean by that?
GG: When we first had the meeting places, it went to the Community Health Councils, and then they formed their own group, which was called "The Greater Baldwin Hills Alliance." When that came, finding out that the directors were all self-appointed and that anything that we wanted to put out there to the community regarding the health risks and the dangers was basically not going out there. And they basically led everybody to believe that it would be a "clean and green" oil field, and it is an oil field, and I can't see that there's any such thing as a "clean and green" oil field. If you're on a field that's leaking, it's always going to leak. I mean, every well bore that's out there is going to leak. There's no ifs, ands or buts about it.
So, we needed to get the information, the dangers, the health risks, the concerns out to the community and let the community make up their own mind of what's happening.
SA: What kind of action did you take once it was formed?
GG: There were a lot of concerns that were going on. We've noticed an increased amount of property damage in the area where there are streets and roads, water main breaks. And another alarming thing are the health aspects to the community. Many of my neighbors are either ill or have passed away already from cancer and lung disease. The neighborhood school, the magnet school, the nurse has over 62 emergency inhalers just for the students there, and they also abut the oil field.
Just the general idea also that the oil field sits on top of a Newport- Inglewood fault that can possibly trigger a 7.4 earthquake, and we know how way overdue California is in quakes. They're always giving us, "Be prepared; be prepared." To allow a process that is known to trigger seismic activity to be allowed to be done here is beyond my comprehension. Or, the USGS (U.S. Geological Survey), as they say, they shouldn't be doing it in any type of urban environment.
We also have the issue of water contamination. The Windsor Hills-Baldwin Hills View Park area, we actually get a majority of our water is well water in the area, and for the operator to basically put Prop 65 (California's Proposition 65 has identified hundreds of chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer) chemicals into the ground and not to think that it could potentially contaminate our water supply is also ridiculous. And the water company here, they have no idea what chemicals are going down there to even test to see if the water is safe. If you don't know what's there, then we could be drinking it and being exposed in that area, too. So, for them to put any chemicals in, to even jeopardize our water supply because our California water supply is in such high demand, even for agricultural and just drinking--I can't relate the quantifying of using these toxins to get out a dredge oil that's not even good oil; the amount that they get out here. The oil field last year, they pulled out 3 million barrels of oil. It may seem like a lot, but the U.S. consumes over 19 million barrels in a day, so that's less than 1/10 of a percentage, and yet they're willing to jeopardize the community over a drop in the bucket, basically.
SA: When you're talking about your community -- where you live, where your home is in the Baldwin Hills of Los Angeles, how many people are we talking about that are directly impacted by this oil field?
GG: There's over a quarter million people surrounding it, but when you come to trying to figure out who could potentially, it's over a million from the impacts between the toxins leaking out of there; the possible earthquake. I don't think anybody, the state could even afford any type of accident. To take that type of risk doesn't equate.
SA: And Gary, when Citizens Coalition formed, you formed it so you could litigate, and what were you litigating?
GG: Basically, we were litigating the CSD, Community Standards District, the policies of which under the oil field has to run and also over the environmental issues that were impacting the community. And so, the environmental impacts affecting the community were what the litigation was about.
SA: That was the beginning of Citizens Coalition. So, how did that go, and what other kinds of suits are you in? What are you dealing with?
GG: It was a long process. It was a very tough, tough battle, because not only were we suing the county over these regulations, but the oil proprietor, too, PXP --Plains Exploration. We did end up with some better regulations out of it. I can't talk on the specifics of it because of the terms of the settlement agreement. But as things go in general, things can always be better, too. But, for what we had to work with, I think we are better off, but there are other issues that still need to be dealt with, and that is where property damage is happening to the community here.
We have millions of dollars' worth of damage between the uplift and subsidence of the hills surrounding the oil field, because the way for them to get the oil out is, they pump millions of gallons of water into the ground to push the oil from one direction to the other, to suck it up, and in doing so the hills are going up and down, shifting on all these faults and fractures throughout the hills here, and you just have to walk through the streets here and see the cracked foundations and the curbs and the homes, and the streets. Water main breaks are happening in pretty much a regular occurrence. And, I'm going to say this, so are the hearts of the people here, because what they thought, they were in a safe community, is being broken apart.
SA: As you're talking about this fracturing of a community that happens in the sacrifice zones of fracking for oil and gas, so when is it that you found out that they were fracking these oil fields, and what's the situation with that now? And I know we're coming up to a June 12th meeting, so if we can talk about, what is this meeting about? How does it connect to regulations you're referring to? And you're talking about the broken hearts of a community. I would imagine there's also fear, anger and upset because so much is not known. So, where do you stand right now with what has been happening with fracking? Because many people find it hard to believe, it's shocking, that they are already fracking in Los Angeles.
GG: Well, I think one of the real concerns is that not everybody does know, and that's a problem. I think if more people really knew that this was actually going on in their back yard, that there'd be a lot more outrage. And so, that's why I'm grateful for this segment going out, to let people know that they really need to look out beyond their window and see what's happening below their feet, because this is where it's actually happening -- it's below their feet. And they say, "Well, it's not my community either," but it actually is. We're all interconnected. Nobody really wants to live next door to a broken-down house either, and if you're going to deal that in larger bases of broken-down communities, you're going to get a lot more blight surrounding the oil fields, and the state. And this is a real concern with the communities here.
I mean, right now, I would have difficulty selling my home where I'm living because of the increased cancer risks, and also with the homes breaking apart. I mean, how are you going to sell a home like that? I would not buy my house knowing what I know now.
And I think in that aspect we need to stop -- limit the blood loss of what they're doing, and are planning on doing, and rebuild the communities and work together. Basically, I say ban this fracking idea. It's something that's only profitable for the oil company. And it's getting at the dredges of stuff, and we need to look at newer technologies, and it's bleeding a dead horse. And what happens when that's gone? You're ended up with brown fields and contaminated ground and water. And who's going to end up having to pay for that is us again. We are really not going to get any benefit out of any of this.
SA: When did they start fracking these oil fields?
GG: The fracking date was actually back in ... I believe it's in 2004 -- I'll have to let you know the exact date on that. Paul Ferrazzi found the literature within the inner memos of the organization where they were kind of bragging on fracking in the oil fields here. And from that is where we basically, even at the time, we went to the supervisors saying, "You know what? They're fracking here." And I had a meeting at the Ladera Center, and the supervisor's assistant, Karly Katona (Deputy to Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Second District, County of Los Angeles) said, "No, they aren't fracking here; they're never going to frack here." And I said, "Well, yes, they are." And basically made me like I was this nut case.
And well, what are they doing, and what have they done? So, we basically have to go back and inform. We're continually going ahead and letting the community know that this is what's going on.
SA: So, when you found out that they were already fracking these oil fields, what did you do? Are they fracking right now? What's the plan? I understand that there was some sort of negotiation that went on, so they've now lowered the number of sites. So, if you could talk a bit about that so we have a picture of this largest urban oil field, contiguous urban oil field in the country.
GG: Originally they wanted to do 1,000 wells in this oil field, and through negotiations we got it down to 500 and some change. But they basically want to drill 53 wells for the next 20 years, and after that they can continue pumping, actually getting, exporting the oil out of there for the next 100 years if they can. There's apparently 65% of this sludge or crude basically in the ground where they want to use this fracking technology with the chemicals and polymers to get at it, and then also, to top that off, they want to put a couple steam injection plants over here, too, to just even heat it up more so they can pump it out quicker and easier. It's basically just going to make these hills vibrate.
SA: And when you say, "negotiate," who are you negotiating with?
GG: We were negotiating against the oil company, PXP -- Plains Exploration and the county of Los Angeles. There were four of us that were suing the county and the oil company. It was Citizens Coalition for a Safe Community; the Community Project; the NRDC with the Community Health Councils; and the City of Culver City. We got consolidated underneath one judge, and just did a lot of arbitration for a long, long time.
SA: What would you like to see happen?
GG: Personally, I say ban fracking. It's just not a viable outcome for the risk. The risk factor doesn't outweigh what the oil company's making. They're the ones that are profiting on this, no matter how you look at it. Either they get the oil out, they're making money on us with this, and/or if they cause a catastrophe here, there again they get money, too. I mean, Halliburton's good for coming into communities that are wiped out and cleaning them up also. So, it's a win-win for them, and I don't really see where the communities get any actual benefit.
SA: I attended the fracking meeting that CCSC organized at the Park Hills Community Church on Saturday, June 2nd, in Baldwin Hills, adjacent to the Inglewood Oil Field. Paul Ferrazzi is one of the founders of CCSC.
Paul Ferrazzi: They keep saying, "It's safe, it's safe, it's safe," but yet they ended up getting the waiver of the requirement of the Safe Water Drinking Act. If they believed it was safe, they wouldn't be asking for those EPA waiver privileges.
SA: Dr. Tom Williams is an international oil field specialist and Sierra Club Los Angeles Chapter Califrack Director. He answered people's questions about fracking and the oil and gas industry.
Tom Williams: Here's one for you. In 2006, near the intersection of Pico and Figueroa in downtown L.A., they had an oily ooze come in to manholes and to basements. Oily ooze. There's an oil field under Staples Center, and they were doing pressure recovery and something popped. I spent 72 chargeable hours, one of my best chargeable hour periods, in three calendar days; charged all to the Los Angeles Fire Department. I became very familiar with 3rd and Fairfax. There was the Ross Dress for Less corridor explosion because of natural gas in the walls and in the ceiling. And it showered debris onto 25 people who had to go to the hospital. Lawsuits, yeah, things like that.
I personally have seen an old badly abandoned oil well in the Wilshire Courtyard construction site on Wilshire, across the street from the Page Museum, blowing out, personally. Risk realized. Vapors, changes in the ground surface. We know that happened with smaller pressure, less pressure than in fracking. So, when you have secondary recovery and fracking going on at the same time, you may have even more of a problem.
SA: Margaret Bowers is a resident of Ladera Heights, a neighborhood adjacent to the Inglewood Oil Field.
Margaret Bowers: I don't know anything unless I get an e-mail from Citizens Coalition for a Safe Community. And the other thing I want to tell this body here today is that we really have to keep the pressure on the county supervisors. We in Ladera Heights, at one of our monthly meetings a few years ago, when you were informing us, "you" meaning Citizens Coalition, was informing the Ladera community about fracking, we had a representative from the County Supervisor's office, Karly Katona stand up and browbeat this gentleman (Gary Gless), saying that, "There is no fracking and will not be any fracking," and now we're hearing about fracking. Fracking doesn't happen overnight. Don't let them fool you. And there's another election coming up, so we just cannot take this sitting down.
SA: Sally Hampton is a member of CCSC.
Sally Hampton: My feeling, especially knowing where we get our water is that we're going to have water shortages, is that even if they're fracking in the "middle of nowhere." We get our water maybe from a river that's not even near here. We (Baldwin Hills) get our water from a well right now, but even people who don't get waters from wells next to oil fields have to be concerned because their water is going to come from somewhere where it could be affected by fracking fluid.
SA: Brenna Norton is with Food and Water Watch, and is an organizer for the statewide ban of fracking in California.
Brenna Norton: They're fracking in the Sacramento Valley, which is, as you know, we get a lot of our water from northern California, right? So, this is a source of drinking water for 20 million Californians, and they're fracking in Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay delta area.
Margaret Bowers: My name is Margaret Bowers.
SA: Margaret, Hi. So, we are just leaving the meeting. This is a neighborhood meeting to strategize about the June 12th event that's happening with DOGGR. And I'm just wondering if you could share with me where you live, how you're involved.
MB: I live in the Ladera Heights community, which is just west of here. The oil field divides that community from the one we're in right now, physically. I am a community activist, and I am on the board of the Ladera Heights Civic Association. I am an alternate on that board.
One of my missions is to bring this issue to my community, to make them aware of what's going on, because it is not a subject that is discussed very much by the leadership of that community. I want people to know what's going on. I have lived in that community for 34 years, and in my youth, when I first bought there, I drove south on La Cienega Boulevard and I saw the ugly oil field, but I wasn't educated as to the risks that we face.
And so, once I turned right to go to my home and I didn't see the field anymore, I wasn't concerned. But now, through the efforts of various community groups like Citizens Coalition, I am more informed, and I feel that I have a duty to inform others.
SA: Could you describe to me what is your neighborhood like, what is the situation with the oil fields, and when did you become alarmed?
MB: My neighborhood is a beautiful, tranquil community to look at. When you see it, you think, "How beautiful." But if you really thought about what we are facing, it really isn't beautiful. It is quite dangerous. Our health is at risk. I wake up in the night and I smell oil ... or, I smell rotten egg.
I wake up the first thing in the morning when I have breathed the air inside my home, and I go out, like Dr. Williams was just saying, and I can really smell what's out there. Sometimes it's pungent.
I am a registered nurse. I have taken care of people with lung cancer; people who became ill because they had no control over what made them ill. I'm thinking that we do have some control over what is potentially making us ill in this community, and we need to do something about it.
SA: As a registered nurse, what are your specific concerns?
MB: My specific concerns now, they have been, now with the information that we're getting about fracking that's going to be taking place, I am even more concerned because of the chemicals that are going to be injected into the surface -- into the Earth, and how that could impact our water supply. And it doesn't seem to be regulated. In fact, we've been told there are no regulations against these practices, and I'm very concerned.
SA: What are some of the chemicals you're concerned about?
MB: Well, I have heard that glutaraldehyde, for one, is going to be used, or is used in fracking. Glutaraldehyde is a substance that I'm familiar with in the medical community. It is used for cold sterilization; it is also a carcinogen. People in hospitals are exposed to this agent and causing illness, and I wonder why we should allow an entire community to be put at risk. They talk about the amounts, that it's very small; well, I don't think that the amounts that will be injected into fracking fluid would be any smaller than what's being used in hospitals, and if it's causing danger there, what can it do here?
SA: When did you first become aware of the fracking happening in your neighborhood?
MB: Well, we were promised that it wasn't going to happen by, like, I said early in the meeting, by a representative from a government agency in this county. But I became aware that something was going on about, maybe, two years ago through Citizens Coalition about fracking. But we were told it wasn't happening. And now, to be told that it is is very, very disturbing.
SA: And as a nurse, so you have taken care of people who have lung cancer as a nurse. If you could share with us, what risks are we talking about? What adverse health impacts?
MB: Well, the risk is our life. We could die. That is the ultimate risk. The ultimate risk is that we can die, not to mention the suffering that we will endure before we die. We should not have to apologize to people 30 years from now. When I say, "we" -- members of the community, members of the elected officials, should not have to come 30 years from now and apologize for the wrong that was brought on a community. We should do something about it now.
SA: And Margaret, what does your community mean to you? You mentioned you're a community organizer. You've lived here for over 30 years. So, what does it mean, and what is this threat now of fracking?
MB: My community is everything to me. This is where I raised my two wonderful American sons. This is where I drive down the street and people wave to me. I enjoy that. This is where I go to the supermarket and the tellers know who I am. This is where I go to the gas station.
I have lived here in the days when there was somebody pumping our gas when we go to the gas station, and I remember during the oil embargo in the '70s that I would pull up to the gas station when there were lines of people coming from everywhere to get gas, but the gas station attendant knew me from the community, and I got my gas.
I believe in community. I believe in supporting the community, buying in the community, and us all living healthily as one community. And I don't want anything, whether it's oil and gas, or anything, changing that for the worse. I want our community to improve, not decline, at the hands of others.
SA: What is the next step, then, in this fight to stop fracking in your community?
MB: The next step is, with massive education of the members of the community, with the recognition by elected officials that we are serious, that this is an important issue to us, that we will get something done, and that we could stop what's happening. But it will take a massive effort, and we cannot be cowardly; we cannot be afraid, because when you're afraid ... There's really nothing to fear but fear itself, and when you're afraid, that's when the powers that be and the people that want to bring harm to you -- maybe they don't willingly want to bring harm to you, but money is a dangerous thing, and there's a lot of money in the oil and gas business.
So, don't be afraid. Just organize, speak up, and get things done for your community. We're not going anywhere. Have you seen the beautiful areas that we're talking about? Lovely areas. But what lurks beneath is deadly.
SA: Thank you, Margaret Bowers.
To find out more about the Citizens Coalition, please go to ccfasc.org.
From the kitchen table, out on the road, I'm Sabrina Artel. www.trailertalk.net.