Report: Fracking Imperils Southern California Residents, Wildlife

The Sespe Oil Field | Photo: J. Brew/Flickr/Creative Commons License

A state report released Wednesday says that fracking at three oil fields in Southern California poses significant potential risk to the environment and public health.

The analysis by the California Department of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources comes as part of a draft Environmental Impact Report analyzing the effect of well enhancement practices such as hydraulic fracturing and acidizing, generally lumped together in public discussions under the term "fracking," on California's environment.

The draft report takes a close look at three oil fields in particular: the Sespe Oil Field near Lake Piru in Ventura County, the Wilmington Oil Field in Long Beach, and the Inglewood Oil Field in southwestern Los Angeles. And the report finds that "significant and unavoidable" environmental damage can be expected as a result of fracking at those three oil fields.


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Preparation of the draft report was mandated by Senate Bill 4. The bill, which became law in 2013, requires state regulators to come up with a consistent statewide framework for regulating fracking.

According to state regulators, no fracking has been performed so far on wells in the Inglewood Oil Field, which occupies a swath of Los Angeles between La Brea and La Cienega in the Baldwin Hills region of the city. Regulators examined that field anyway because of the high likelihood well enhancement techniques would be used there in the near future.

At the 128-year-old Sespe Oil Field in Ventura County, hard up against the Sespe Condor Sanctuary and the Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge in Los Padres National Forest, 11 wells were fracked between June 2012 and June 2013 alone, with 14 wells fracked during the same period in the Wilmington Oil Field. According to the report, that's more wells fracked during that period than at any other location in the state outside of drill-happy Kern County.

At all three fields, say the report's authors, continued fracking poses a significant risk of damage to air quality, wildlife, public and worker safety, while increasing the state's greenhouse gas emissions, impeding recreational use of surrounding lands, and causing transportation and traffic problems.

In addition to being smack dab in the middle of a landscape crucial to the federal government's California condor recovery program, Sespe is also surrounded by habitat for imperiled species such as the southern steelhead, arroyo toads, and California red-legged frog.

As a draft Environmental Impact Report prepared under the California Environmental Quality Act, the report released Thursday identifies a range of alternatives for regulating fracking and similar technologies. The report's authors acknowledge that the first alternative discussed, a total ban on fracking, would be the best path for the Wilmington, Sespe, and Inglewood oil fields.

But while a ban on fracking might be best for the immediate vicinity of the three oil fields studies, the report's authors claim that a statewide ban would have negative environmental effects by shifting oil and gas production from California to less-well-regulated places.

Despite the report's backing away from a statewide ban, activists concerned about the effects of fracking on the environment and public health are finding validation in the document.

"This report confirms our worst fears -- that fracking in the Los Padres National Forest has caused and will continue to cause significant risks to the environment, outdoor recreation, and public health," said Jeff Kuyper, the executive director of Los Padres ForestWatch. "Consistent with the findings in this report, our national forest should be placed off-limits to fracking immediately. We cannot risk ruining this treasured landscape and threatening the water supply of downstream communities."

The Department of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources will be accepting public comment on the draft Environmental Impact Report until March 16, and will be holding public meetings throughout the state in February.

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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