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The DOGGR Days of Summer: DOGGR Seeks Public Comment on Proposed Fracking Regulations

Early drilling operations in Baldwin Hills (photo courtesy of L.A. Times, http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2008/10/theres-been-muc.html)

Early drilling operations in Baldwin Hills (photo courtesy of L.A. Times, http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2008/10/theres-been-muc.html)

It’s that time of year again.

Time for the Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), the agency tasked with regulating the Oil & Gas industry, to once again skip the home to one of the largest urban oil fields in the U.S. on its listening tour.

The occasion? DOGGR is seeking public comment on the latest version of the proposed regulations (released mid-June) regarding the use of unconventional well stimulation practices in oil and gas production.

Let me see if I can put what that entails into English.

With last year’s signing into law of Senate Bill 4 (SB 4), the highly imperfect but significant first step forward in regulating unconventional oil and gas drilling practices in California, DOGGR was officially tasked with taking on some of the very regulatory functions it had shied away from for years. These included defining a range of unconventional drilling practices (and related terms) and adopting rules and regulations specific to those practices that operators must be able to comply with to receive a permit to drill. The regulations, the bill specifies, are to be completed by January 1, 2015.

In addition to requiring operators seek specific permits for fracking and other unconventional practices — a first in the history of drilling in California — SB 4 orders the State to conduct an environmental impact report (EIR) pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), analyzing the effects of hydraulic fracturing statewide by July 15, 2015 (DOGGR’s broad Notice of Preparation under CEQA can be found here).

This is also a first, as fracking operations have generally gotten around being subjected to CEQA reviews.

That doesn’t make SB 4′s approach perfect — it appears fracking can continue unabated, even while testing to determine whether it is safe is still underway (especially with the defeat of SB 1132 in May). But, it is still a major step forward, considering that, as recently as 2011, Governor Jerry Brown fired Elena Miller (who reviewed drilling permits at DOGGR) and Derek Chernow (acting director of the DoC), for slowing down the permitting process and suggesting that fracking operations should be subjected to CEQA.

The different deadlines for the completion of the regulations and the EIR are one of the many things activists point to as a being problematic. Why, for example, would the state require that regulations for drilling practices be put in place before studies examining the safety of those very practices are completed? And, will future drilling operations be subjected to project-specific CEQA reviews (and therefore a public process)? Much will depend on what comes out of the EIR.

Other problems quickly surfaced in the first set of draft regulations for public comment that DOGGR released last November, two months after the bill was signed into law. Read more…

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Transportation Priorities Jostle for CA’s Cap-and-Trade Revenue

A series of hearings in Sacramento have been revisiting California’s Global Warming Solutions Act, Assembly Bill (A.B.) 32, which calls for a statewide reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) to 1990 levels by 2020. Two recent hearings have opened discussions of Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed spending plan for the revenue received so far from the state’s cap-and-trade program, implemented as part of A.B. 32, and another recent Senate hearing discussed the program’s impacts to date.

Mary Nichols, Chair of the California Air Resources Board, explains cap and trade.

The auction of cap-and-trade credits is producing money for the state, which, under A.B. 32, must be spent on helping further reduce GHG emissions. Last month, Governor Brown released his cap-and-trade expenditure plan for 2014-2015, in which he proposed to spend $850 million in expected revenue from the auctions. Of that, $600 million would be used for transportation-related projects and programs, with the lion’s share of that ($250 million) for high speed rail.

Other transportation categories include $50 million to Caltrans to expand and modernize existing rail; $200 million towards programs that encourage the use of zero-emission vehicles, including trucks, buses, and cars; and $100 million over the next two years to the Strategic Growth Council for Sustainable Communities programs, including plans that encourage compact and infill development near transit.

The governor’s plan does not include any funds for bicycling, walking, or transit other than what would fall under the above categories, even though these transportation modes offer a huge potential savings in GHG emissions.

At a Senate Transportation Committee hearing Wednesday, a long line of public advocacy groups spoke up for reshuffling the cap and trade funds, mostly in the direction of the respective group’s preferred emissions-reduction strategy (better transit, for example, or forest fire prevention given this dry year).

But only a few speakers questioned why so much money was being given to high speed rail. The Legislative Analyst’s report questioned the GHG benefits of California’s planned high speed rail, which would not have any effect on emissions until 2022 at the earliest, and would at best provide a modest contribution to GHG reductions.

“We need to fund GHG reductions in the near term,” said Catherine Phillips of the Sierra Club. “It doesn’t warrant spending 31 percent of the money on high speed rail. Many other programs will get you reductions sooner than will high speed rail.” Read more…

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“Our Fears Have Not Been Allayed”: The Limits of Regulatory Powers Over Unconventional Oil and Gas Extraction Techniques

Pastor Kevin Sauls and members of Holman Church place a Ban Fracking Now sticker on the full page ad Freeport McMoRan Oil & Gas took out in the LA Sentinel in anticipation of the City Council vote. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Pastor Kelvin Sauls and members of Holman United Methodist Church place a Ban Fracking Now sticker on the full page ad Freeport McMoRan Oil & Gas took out in the LA Sentinel in anticipation of the City Council vote. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Qué significa ‘fracking’ en español?” the woman wearing a “People Not Pozos” shirt and a “Ban Fracking Now” sticker asked me.

I scratched my head.

Shouldn’t she know? I wondered.

And, how exactly does one say, “Fracking is a ‘well stimulation treatment that…includes the pressurized injection of hydraulic fracturing fluid or fluids into an underground geologic formation in order to fracture or with the intent to fracture the formation, thereby causing or enhancing…the production of oil or gas from a well‘” in Spanish, anyways? It’s not like it rolls off the tongue all that easily in English.

The broad definition I stumbled my way through apparently satisfied her because she smiled, nodded, and turned her attention back to an oddly clad gadfly making his way to the center podium in order to address the members of the City Council.

“I love prostitution!” he proclaimed.

Earlier, he had waved a bag of lollipops in the air and announced to the councilmembers that he had brought one for each of them because they knew how to suck.

Clearly, I do not hang out here often enough, I thought.

Finally, it was time for Council President Herb Wesson to turn his attention to the motion much of the packed-to-the-gills house was waiting for. Put forward by Councilmembers Paul Koretz and Mike Bonin, it would take the first step toward limiting unconventional oil well stimulation practices within Los Angeles until they could be proven safe.

“Mr. Koretz, treasure that ovation,” winked Wesson, as the crowd stood to enthusiastically applaud what they felt to be the courageous efforts of the councilmembers to wrest back some control over community health from the oil corporations.

Among those present February 28th to witness the unanimous vote were representatives of several environmental organizations and community groups that have dedicated much time and energy to lobbying against harmful drilling practices and educating the public about them.

Many were also just regular people, like the woman who had asked me to translate “fracking” into Spanish for her, or another young community organizer who said he had gotten involved in the fight because of fears that oil companies were “destroy[ing] our health.” For them, the fight was clearly personal. But, when pressed for details, some of them struggled to articulate exactly what it was they thought the oil companies were doing in their communities or how those practices were affecting them.

There are reasons for that. Read more…

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Food Producers Speak Out Against Fracking As L.A. City Council Votes on Ban

Farmers from all over California, including the Central Valley and coastal areas, showed up at Governor Jerry Brown’s office Wednesday with a petition calling for a moratorium on fracking. The same day a similar petition with the signatures of chefs, restaurant owners, winemakers, and brewers from throughout California was also delivered to the governor.

Anti-fracking momentum continues to grow. Earlier today, the L.A. City Council passed a motion that will use zoning codes to effectively ban fracking after the city writes a legal ordinance.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a technique to extract oil from otherwise inaccessible deposits by forcing water, mixed with other chemicals and acids, into the ground to break up, or fracture, rocks holding the oil and allow it to flow more freely. There have been charges that the extraction method causes earthquakes, poisons groundwater, and wastes water, yet the practice continues.

California has long been an oil-producing state, and oil wells are so ubiquitous in certain regions that we no longer notice them. Countless small oil wells, many in active production, are interspersed in all kinds of surprising places within L.A. The Central Valley also is a major oil producing region, and the Monterey Shale, an underground deposit in the Central Valley, has been gaining attention because it is a huge potential source of oil, made more accessible due to the invention of fracking. But it sits under long-established communities and farms that grow food crops for the entire country, and concerns that fracking endangers that supply are growing.

Current law requires the California Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) to approve and supervise any oil drilling operations in the state. Last year the legislature passed S.B. 4, which created the state’s first regulations on fracking. It requires DOGGR to conduct a study on the hazards and risks from the fracking process.

The law was initially supported by some environmental groups. The assembly’s legislative analysis points out that S.B. 4 includes all the key elements recommended by a National Resources Defense Council paper on regulations on fracking, and then some. These elements include prior notification of fracking activities to local residents, disclosure of the amount of water used, what chemicals are used, a description of a well’s geologic context, and a waste storage and disposal plan.

We did support S.B.4 last session and and I still think that bill did some good things,” said a senior attorney with the NRDC, Damon Nagami. “But we never thought that S.B. 4 alone was adequate to protect the environment. It was a good start, and Senator Pavely’s efforts were needed. But at the very end there were some changes made to the bill that were problematic and we had to withdraw our support.” Read more…

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Fracking Ban Passes PLUM Committee, To Full Council Friday

City PLUM Committee hearing yesterday. Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz (at podium, right) expresses his support for banning fracking

LA City PLUM Committee hearing yesterday. Councilmember Paul Koretz (at podium, right) expresses his support for banning fracking. Joe Linton/Streetsblog LA

The Los Angeles City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee approved two motions that aim to prohibit local oil extraction processes known as fracking. Both motions will now be heard by the full City Council this Friday February 28th, where they are expected to pass.

Banning fracking inside L.A. City limits is no small matter. Historically L.A. was dotted with oil wells, and many wells are still currently active. The 1000-acre Baldwin Hills Oil Field has been called “the largest urban oil field in the US.” Many small extraction sites are located in neighborhoods, including the Allenco site and the Murphy Drill site, both in South Los Angeles. In these cases, a small footprint doesn’t necessarily mean small impact. Nearby residents and regulators attribute very serious air pollution issues to these smaller oil operations.

There are two very similar motions working their way through Los Angeles’ legislative processes. Councilmembers Paul Koretz and Mike Bonin introduced motion 13-1152-s1 to use zoning to “prohibit… hydraulic fracturing in [L.A.] until safety and reliability of… water supplies are assured.” Councilmember Bernard Parks and Jose Huizar introduced motion 13-1152 to use zoning to “ensure that public health and safety is protected from… fracking activities.”

Fracking opponents were out in large numbers, packing yesterday’s PLUM committee hearing. The city’s Public Works hearing room was standing room only, leading to some attendees being diverted to watch the proceeding via video in overflow seating hastily set up in council chambers. Fracking opponents are very diverse.

The diversity of the room was reflective of the many communities and people potentially affected by harmful drilling practices in urban centers. Anti-fracking speakers mentioning their neighborhoods came from Lincoln Heights, San Fernando Valley, Echo Park, Culver City and Whittier. While not in attendance yesterday, members of the Culver City City Council also wrote in support of the fracking bans.

Overflow crowd at yesterday's anti-fracking hearing at the L.A. City Council PLUM Committee. South L.A. residents wearing their black and red People Not Pozos T-shirts in the foreground. Joe Linton/LA Streetsblog

Overflow crowd at yesterday’s anti-fracking hearing at the L.A. City Council PLUM Committee. South L.A. residents wearing their black and red People Not Pozos T-shirts in the foreground. Joe Linton/Streetsblog LA

Read more…

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West Adams Neighbors Come Together to Oppose the Drillers Next Door

A crane peeks out from behind a makeshift wall recently put up by Freeport-McMoRan at the Murphy Drilling Site. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

A drilling rig peeks out from behind a sound barrier that was recently erected by Freeport-McMoRan at the Murphy Drilling Site. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

“So, those are not water trucks we see coming through the neighborhood?” asked an older gentleman enjoying the sunny Saturday afternoon with friends outside one of the men’s homes in the West Adams neighborhood.

He was referring to the numerous heavy trucks ferrying enormous containers of acids and other drilling-related equipment and materials to the oil and gas drilling sites run by Freeport-McMoRan Oil & Gas (FM O&G) in the area.

“Hardly,” I said, telling them about some of the issues raised at the emergency community meeting earlier that day regarding FM O&G’s activities at the Murphy Drill Site (located at 2126 W. Adams) and their plans to begin drilling and redrilling several wells at the Jefferson/Budlong site at the end of the month.

The 300+ residents that had attended the meeting, I explained, were deeply concerned about loud noises and alarming odors coming from the Murphy site since the latest round of drilling began in late November of last year.

And, it wasn’t the first time they’d been unhappy with their neighbor.

Back in 2004, similar complaints were lodged with the fire department and the city when redrilling began at two of the 27 wells on the 3-acre Murphy site. But now, newer techniques for well-stimulation that entail pumping thousands of gallons of acid into the spiderweb of pipelines that run horizontally underneath much of the neighborhood have stirred even more fears. Citing the more than 50 underground pipelines emanating from the wellhead at the Jefferson/Budlong site alone, neighbors worry that the community could be devastated if something were to go wrong.

Pipelines emanating from the drill site at Jefferson/Budlong.

Pipelines emanating from the drill site at Jefferson/Budlong. For reference, Vermont runs down the middle of the diagram, USC is at bottom right, Hoover is the main street at right, and the main street bordering the area at the top is Adams.

The gentlemen took that in for a moment.

“They’re drilling for oil? Right here?” asked one, demanding to see my camera and the photos that I had taken outside the Murphy site. Read more…

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When One Well Closes, God…er…Oil Corporations Open Another

The Murphy Drill Site (bottom, right), located at 2126 Adams Blvd could play host to 3 new wells, should Freeport-McMoRan get their way. (Google Screen Shot)

The Murphy Drill Site (bottom, right), located at 2126 Adams Blvd could play host to 3 new wells, should Freeport-McMoRan get their way. (Google Screen Shot)

While the city may be busy doing what it can to see AllenCo’s oil wells just north of USC permanently closed, neighbors have turned their attention to fighting another corporation’s bid to drill several wells to the west of the campus.

Their first target is the Murphy Drill Site, located at 2126 Adams Blvd. (above) and which sits in close proximity to health centers, schools, a library, and housing complexes. It is not too far from a second problematic site at Jefferson and Budlong, which is similarly bordered by schools, residential neighborhoods, and USC.

Both sites are run by Freeport-McMoRan Oil & Gas LLC (a subsidiary of Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold), who took them over when they acquired PXP in May of last year. Freeport is currently seeking approval for requests to drill and/or re-open three wells at the Murphy site and, in the near future, perform similar operations at the Budlong one.

We Can Haz Oil. Screen shot of the Dept. of Conservation's map of oil wells. Available here.

We Can Haz Oil. Screen shot of the Dept. of Conservation’s map of oil wells around L.A. Available here.

What worries residents is that Freeport doesn’t have a history of being a great neighbor, even though they only acquired the sites 9 months ago. Read more…

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Fight Fracking (today!), See the City Lites, Take a Nature Tour, and Play Kickball

Flyer for the bike tour of Willowbrook hosted by the United Riders of South L.A. on Sunday

As an NPR junkie, I have long been aware that the natural gas industry has been a sponsor of their programming for several years.

But I nearly spit my coffee out last week when I heard a brief spot extolling the virtues of having the gas industry drilling in one’s backyard.

Here in L.A., the drilling in our collective backyard, the Baldwin Hills area of the Inglewood Oil Field, has not been without controversy or consequences.

Today, organizations, public health professionals, farmers, and residents living near drilling operations will gather at noon outside Governor Brown’s Los Angeles office (300 S. Spring Street) with Gasland filmmaker Josh Fox to protest the practice. The protest will also mark the launch of Californians Against Fracking, a statewide coalition working to ban fracking in favor of protecting California’s air, water, wildlife, climate and public health. Fox will speak at the rally as his new fracking exposé, Gasland Part II, screens across the state, and participate in delivering a petition with 100,000 signatures to the governor’s office.

Member organizations of Californians Against Fracking include Food & Water Watch; the Center for Biological Diversity; Environment California; CREDO; Democracy for America; the California Nurses Association; Breast Cancer Action; the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment; Citizens Coalition for a Safe Community; Family Farm Defenders; and AFSCME Council 57.

Join in the march at 12 p.m., today, at 300 S. Spring St.

For details on screenings of the film, visit http://fwwat.ch/CAFGasland.

* * * *

Saturday, check out the City Lites Inner City Sports and Health Fair. Read more…

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Fracking is the “Latest Cause of Silly People” and is Great for the Economy!

Early drilling operations in Baldwin Hills (photo courtesy of L.A. Times, http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2008/10/theres-been-muc.html)

I cannot pretend to be an expert on fracking. Not even close. Yet, I can’t help the feeling that drilling thousands of feet into the earth, pumping millions of gallons of chemical-laden water — with many of the chemicals being known carcinogens — multiple times over several days into the ground in earthquake fault zones can’t be great for the environment. Even if that makes me a silly person.

Thankfully, there are many that know much better than I, and they seem to be in agreement that, indeed, fracking is not all it is cracked up to be. A two-year study of earthquake activity triggered by drilling in Dallas by University of Texas researcher Cliff Frolich, for example, claimed its most significant finding to be “that all of the better-located [earthquake] epicenters were situated within a few kilometers of one or more injection wells.” And that “this is important because it suggests that small triggered earthquakes, magnitude about 2 and smaller, occur more often than reported previously. Most of these wells associated with earthquakes were not suspected of triggering earthquakes prior to this study.”

His findings confirmed those of a two-year study conducted in the Horn River Basin in Canada that found anomalous low-level seismic activity “were caused by fluid injection during hydraulic fracturing in proximity to pre-existing [earthquake] faults.”*

While Frolich could not explain why some injection wells in the shale around Dallas triggered earthquakes and others did not, he made clear that better research is necessary to build a better understanding of the link between fracking and seismic activity. Currently, he wrote,

Most investigations of induced or triggered earthquakes take place only after an earthquake occurs that is severe enough to be felt by nearby residents and receive media attention. Such events usually have magnitudes of approximately 3 or greater and occur in populated areas. Limiting research only to these events [reported by the public or the National Earthquake Information Center] doesn’t help us understand why some injection wells trigger seismic activity and others do not. I am unaware of any previous investigation comparing the properties of injection wells that do and do not induce earthquakes.

Meanwhile, a 2011 draft report by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), indicated that synthetic chemicals, including glycols and alcohols used in gas production and fracking, concentrations of benzene that were well above Safe Drinking Water Act standards, and high levels of methane, had contaminated an aquifer in Wyoming. While the contaminants had not significantly affected public and private wells — contaminants were detected but in low enough levels to still meet safe standards — the EPA did express concern about the ability of the contaminants to migrate and eventually impact those wells.

Industry leaders, on the other hand, continue to deny that fracking is harmful.

PXP’s study of its own fracking activities in the Inglewood Oil Field concluded that — surprise! — fracking is totally safe. Air quality is not an issue and nor is ground movement, despite the number of residents from Baldwin Hills that have come forward to speak about how the foundations of their homes are cracking.

Furthermore, industry leaders claim, fracking has never once been proven to impact water supplies. According to the organizers at “Save Colorado From Fracking,” however, that may only be because the industry considers “fracking” to be limited to the injection of fluid alone, while the public considers “fracking” to entail the entire process of drilling a well for the purposes of hydraulic fracturing.

Despite the mounting evidence calling the practice into question, a few days ago, Governor Jerry Brown suggested that California should look at fracking as a way to develop its massive oil reserves, currently locked in the Monterey Shale, as a way to reduce dependence on foreign oil. The U.S. Energy Department estimates the shale could contain more than 15 billion barrels of oil — the equivalent of approximately 64 percent of the U.S.’ total shale oil resources.

Fracking in the shale could also lead to a massive economic boom, a new report from USC and the Communications Institute, has found. By 2015, the study claims, oil-related tax revenues could top $4.5 billion and $24.6 billion by 2020, generating as many as 500,000 new jobs — both within the industry and because of the services the new workforce would require (food, clothing, housing, supplies, etc.) — in the next two years and 2.8 million jobs by 2020. Read more…

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Extra! Extra! “Fracking is Safe!” Says New Study

Image taken from "Hydraulic Fracturing Study" of the PXP Inglewood Oilfield prepared by Cardno ENTRIX

Not unlike most of you, I imagine, I am no expert in hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”

Although I have been closely following the controversy regarding the desire of Plains Exploration & Production Company (PXP) to move forward with its plans for fracking several hundred wells at the Inglewood Oil Fields in the coming years as well as regarding the community concerns about the limited oversight of the practice, I can claim no extraordinary competency in the subject. (For more background on the conflict between PXP and the Baldwin Hills community, see here, here and here).

So, when the 200-plus page PXP-funded study released a few days ago found that their fracking operations in the Inglewood Oil Field posed no threat to the community or the environment and would not induce earthquakes, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it.

No one else seemed particularly surprised by the report’s claim that the practice is safe.

“Fox Guarding Henhouse!” screamed the media release that landed in my inbox from Food & Water Watch. The obvious conflict of interest and lack of consideration of the long-term consequences of the practice, the statement by their Pacific Region Director Kristen Lynch read, makes the report prepared by environmental consulting firm Cardno ENTRIX “an example of shill science at it’s [sic] worst.”

But that judgement may not be wholly fair.

It may indeed seem suspicious that the industry funded its own study, but it did so per the requirements of last year’s settlement of a 2008 lawsuit.

The settlement also required that PXP agree to reduce the number of wells drilled, commission additional studies on health and air quality, and determine the effects that fracking could have on the surrounding area.

The lawsuit, filed by a coalition of organizations on behalf of community members, had been sparked by an incident in early 2006, when noxious fumes released by PXP’s drilling operations wafted through nearby residential areas. Complaints about the odors came from as far as two miles away, and a number of residents had been forced to evacuate the area.

Having PXP pay for the independent study themselves was, at the time, seen as a way to exact punishment, not promote corruption.

That said, a first reading of the lengthy executive summary of the report does raise a few questions. Read more…