Inglewood Oil Field hydraulic fracturing effects disputed


Fracking is a hot-button issue worldwide. Many believe the process can cause earthquakes and expose people to cancer-causing chemicals. The owners of the Inglewood Oil Field paid to have the process studied. Many critics are not satisfied with the results.

The community's biggest concern is hydraulic fracturing, known as "fracking." It's a controversial process where millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals are shot underground at high pressure to fracture rock that surrounds oil so it can flow into the well.

Just outside his Baldwin Hills home, Gary Gless can put his fingers in a crack in the street. He says home foundations in his neighborhood are also cracking, all in the last few years. Gless and area residents wonder if the damage is coming from the Inglewood Oil Field.

"We haven't had the earthquakes, we haven't had rains," said Gless. "The only thing different is the oil industry."

Since 2003, the oil field's owner, Plains Exploration and Production Company (PXP), says 23 hydraulic fracture operations have taken place. The field sits on a fault, and critics say fracking can trigger an earthquake.

"Even the USGS says that it could potentially trigger a 7.4 here. You know, a small seismic event can trigger a larger one. The water contamination, and air pollution," said Gless.

Gless is part of a group that filed a lawsuit against PXP and Los Angeles County. As part of a settlement, PXP paid a consulting firm to conduct an environmental impact report. They tested the fracking process on two of the oil field's 475 wells. The yearlong study, released five days ago, concluded that the environment and those living nearby were not affected.

"The bottom line was there just wasn't enough energy generated from the operations to trigger any sort of ground movement that would be noticeable," said PXP spokesman John Martini. "The study did an evaluation of the groundwater and determined that there was no groundwater impact whatsoever from the impact of the operation."

But Brenna Norton of the nonprofit environmental group Food & Water Watch says the study was not comprehensive and that the community should not be exposed to an uncontrolled health experiment.

"Of course they're going to say it's safe," said Norton. "They stand to profit financially. This is 'shill' science and this study is bogus and we're not going to stand for the hype, spins and lies funded by the oil and gas industry. We want a ban on fracking until it can be independently and scientifically shown to be safe."

L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said the study is just the first step in a process, and that no fracking will be done in Baldwin Hills through the year 2013.

PXP is holding an annual community meeting Monday night. Opponents plan to hold a news conference outside of the meeting.

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