California is one of the largest oil and gas producing states in the US. As the Golden State cashes in on the boom, the oil and gas industry is increasingly using fracking.
Last year about a quarter of all the oil and gas wells drilled in California were fracked and with no regulation in place, companies are rushing to dig some more. California is prone to droughts and earthquakes, leaving residents worried about how fracking could affect their water supply and the potential for an earth shaking disaster.
Southern California is known for its pristine coastline, but just a few miles away from the ocean lays a one-thousand acre oil field, right in the middle of Los Angeles.
“I didn’t buy here thinking this was going to happen in my backyard. I would have had second thoughts about living here,” said Gary Gless, a Los Angeles resident who lives just a few miles from the Inglewood Oil Field.
Gless and his neighbors are seeing their dream homes crack before their eyes and they blame the increased production at the oil fields next door.
When homeowners moved in, they say they were assured the wells were dry. Following recent methane leaks, however, residents found out that drilling picked up, and that the exploration company, PXP, is actually using fracking to extract oil.
“Fracking is happening completely unregulated in the state of California,” said Brenna Norton, an organizer with Food and Water Watch. “Oil and gas companies don’t have to say where they frack or what chemicals they are injecting into water, possibly close to your drinking water,” Norton added.
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is the process of pumping high-pressure water, chemicals and solids into the ground to fracture the rock, and extract fuel that would otherwise be unavailable.
PXP, which operates the largest urban oil field in America, is conducting its own study as to what sort of effects fracking will have on this neighborhoodBut neighbors here are worried they will never have true answers about what is really happening underneath their homes.
“Wastewater injection from fracking is linked to earthquakes and property damage. The US geological survey linked wastewater wells from fracking to earthquakes,” said Norton.
The concern over seismic activity is especially high in the Los Angeles area because of the oil field’s proximity to the Newport-Inglewood fault, which according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has the potential of a 7.4 magnitude earthquake.
“In many places where you have large amounts of water injected in broken rock, it tends to move either on the surface or in depth,” said Dr. Tom Williams, a retired geologist and oil industry insider.
That movement, experts say, could pose a danger to an area all too familiar with disaster.
In 1963, the Baldwin Hills Reservoir collapsed, killing five people and destroying 60 homes. Geologists concluded that decades of extraction in the neighboring oil field led to the rupture in the dam.
Today, cracked foundations and buckling roadways have neighbors worried about losing their homes.
“The foundation, I don’t know what is going on under my house. If we do get an earthquake, I’m sure that with all these cracks it will probably rip it all open,” said Los Angeles resident Rosa Tatum.
“The state couldn’t afford any type of damage, not just from the earthquakes but the millions of gallons of contaminated water that they’ll be pumping into the ground,” said Gless.
The oil and gas industry has launched a public relations campaign claiming fracking is safe since it has been happening for decades.
“1.2 million times that fracking has occurred in this country there has not been a single incident of reported of water contamination,” said Dave Quast, from Energy in Depth, an advocacy group for the oil and gas industry.
Quast’s claims come after US Environmental Protection Agency report in Wyoming, in which federal regulators said fracking was the probable cause of tainted water supplies.
The industry has also launched an offensive to confront regulation and criticism.
“These fossil fuel giants influence policy enormously. They spent $747 million lobbying Congress to get this Safe Water Drinking Act exemption. That is a contamination of our democracy,” said Josh Fox, director of the Oscar nominated documentary, “Gasland”
The efforts of big oil and gas have only emboldened the anti-fracking movement on the west coast of the US, as activists and community members attempt to ban the controversial drilling technique in California.