Fracking in the Inglewood Oil Field: A New Report is the First Step, not the Last Word

Fifteen months after a hard-won settlement provided for important environmental protections, research studies and monitoring of the Inglewood Oil Field and adjacent communities, compliance with the agreement’s provisions has been significant.

In compliance with the settlement, on October 10th, Plains Exploration and Production Company released a required study of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the Inglewood Oil Field. The study is the first of its kind to examine the potential environmental impacts of fracking at an oil field anywhere in the nation and possibly, the world.

There is a lot of information that has been collected, and it will take time to thoughtfully review and assess its findings, but it is appropriate for everyone involved to stop for a moment to acknowledge the petitioners who pushed for this study; that insistence – not the outcome — showcases the power of collective commitment on the part of many, many involved citizens. The study indicates that based on findings at two wells drilled on the oil field late last year, hydraulic fracking at depths of 7,000 feet below ground is safe. This determination, however, is based on 14 very specific conditions and strictly speaking, literally applies only to these two wells.

I see these findings as the beginning of research into the effects and feasibility of fracking, not a conclusion. What we have now is a scientific starting point for debate and discussion. It is appropriate that other technical experts weigh in on the report, and I expect the information to be thoroughly vetted by the state’s Division of Oil Gas and Geothermal Resources as they proceed with developing their long-awaited, statewide regulations on hydraulic fracking.

As I mentioned, the fracking study was a requirement of the June 2011 settlement that was facilitated by the County of Los Angeles and agreed to by plaintiffs, who had sued both the County and PXP. PXP was required to pay for an independent consultant to conduct the study, and the County and PXP were responsible for selecting a qualified peer reviewer to evaluate and provide comments on the study after it was completed. The consultant, Daniel Tormey of Cardno Entrix, had access to all of the data and information he requested, and that same data, including the peer reviewer’s comments, have been made available to the public and local and state regulatory agencies.

The settlement also required the oil company and the County to comply with a host of other mitigations to safeguard the health and wellbeing of the community.

A number of those conditions already have been met: the County is overseeing air quality monitoring, taking an inventory of emissions around the perimeter of the oil field. The first phases of landscaping improvements, along La Brea and below Ladera Crest, are visible, and PXP is expected to begin the next phase early next year. Permissible levels of nighttime noise have been significantly reduced, and a two-part community health assessment, which analyzed mortality and morbidity data for the population surrounding the oil field, as well as synthesized interviews with 1,000 residents regarding their health conditions and concerns, has been completed by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

One conclusion, however, can be drawn from the entire settlement process: community involvement makes a difference. Together we have advanced a conversation the rest of the nation is only beginning to have. And together, we will continue to promote environmental stewardship and accountability around the Inglewood Oil Field and throughout the Second District.