Oil Drilling Plans Near L.A. Neighborhood Prompt Calls for Review

The North Aliso Canyon Field is located within the Santa Susana Mountains and is about one mile and a half from Porter Ranch, an L.A. neighborhood. | Photo: newagecrap/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Residents of Porter Ranch on Tuesday demanded a full environmental assessment of a Long Beach company's proposal to expand oil drilling operations in the Santa Susana Mountains from 18 to 30 wells.

Community activists raised concerns ranging from groundwater contamination and health risks to increased earthquake hazards in objecting to The Termo Co.'s request to add the wells to its North Aliso Canyon Field, north of the Santa Susana ridgeline.

The oil field has been in continuous production since 1938 and sits about a mile and half away from Porter Ranch, according to Termo spokesman Ralph Combs.

"The community has grown up around the field," he said, telling City News Service that "no significant concerns" had been raised by residents over the years.

Locals told the Board of Supervisors today that they were worried about hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking."

Combs told CNS that "hydraulic fracturing is not proposed for this project," but residents countered that the permit to expand the operation, if approved, would give the company leeway to use hydraulic fracturing in the future.

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A representative of the Department of Regional Planning said it has not yet begun work on an initial study to determine whether a full EIR is required because it is still waiting for additional information from Termo.

In the interim, the Los Angeles City Council, spurred by Councilman Mitch Englander, has already called for a full EIR, as has the Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council.

Hydraulic fracturing is the process of injecting water, sand and chemicals at high pressure to produce fractures in underlying rock formation to stimulate the flow of oil. It has been used since the 1940s, but has experienced a boom as gas prices have gone high enough to make the technology profitable.

The methodology has become a hot button for environmentalists concerned about the impact on groundwater and seismic faults.

Industry proponents argue that hydraulic fracturing, properly executed, is a safe way to move toward energy independence.

Termo has roughly 155 wells nationwide and hydraulic fracturing has been used to stimulate production in about nine of those wells, according to Combs. In 2007 and 2011, the company used fracturing on two wells in the North Aliso Canyon Field.

The North Aliso Canyon Field is not in a groundwater basin, though opponents point out that the wells would be situated above Browns Creek, a headwater for the Los Angeles River. The river functions largely as a concrete flood control channel through much of the county.

Termo is just one of several oil operators in that area of the Santa Susana Mountains, home to roughly 150 wells, according to Save Porter Ranch.

Some residents believe the combined operations are responsible for unexplained migraines, nosebleeds, rampant allergies and other health problems, though they have no medical evidence.

The family-owned oil company, which is based in Long Beach, has been reaching out to area residents to try and alleviate their concerns.

"We are committed to working with the community and the Department of Regional Planning," Combs said.

A county spokesman said public hearings would be held on the matter once an initial study is completed.

But some in the community are unlikely to be persuaded, regardless of what future studies conclude.

"No matter what the Termo project proposes, significant environmental impact is inevitable," read a statement to the board from the Save Porter Ranch residents' group. "We want the Termo application rejected."

For ongoing environmental coverage in March 2017 and afterward, please visit our show Earth Focus, or browse Redefine for historic material.
KCET's award-winning environment news project Redefine ran from July 2012 through February 2017.

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