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Is Fracking Happening In Los Angeles?

Hydraulic fracturing, otherwise known as "fracking," is the environmental term du jour in California, and indeed across America. Fracking is an energy industry term to describe the process of injecting millions of gallons of chemical-laden water into the ground to help extract pockets of trapped natural gas or oil. The Academy Award nominated film Gasland delved into the dangers of fracking, and helped reveal that the process is immune from the burdens of the Clean Water Act. It is virtually unregulated--at least it is for now.

That film, however, largely portrayed the issue of fracking as a rural problem. But here in Los Angeles, unlike most cities in America, we have a good share of oil and natural gas extraction right within our city limits. Is this unregulated procedure being employed in the middle of the second largest city in the United States?

As the Long Beach Press-Telegram reported this week, fracking does occur in L.A. County:

In Long Beach, fracking has been used for 17 years, though the city's Department of Gas and Oil estimates less than 10 percent of wells involve the process. Department head Chris Garner said no accidents have occurred here since the practice began. "In the past four years, the Long Beach (oil fields) have averaged five 'fracs' per year, all under the oversight of the state's Department of Oil and Gas," Garner said. And to date, no contamination has been detected in local groundwater supplies, which produce about 60 percent of Long Beach's drinking water.

Scary. Especially because they drink the groundwater in Long Beach.

But what about in Los Angeles proper?

Don Drysdale, spokesman for the California Department of Conservation, says he doesn't know. "Right now the law does not require that we monitor fracking," he explains.

What we do know is that "water injection" is a regular practice in many L.A. drill sites.

"Water injection and fracking are not the same thing," Drysdale explains. "When you drill you often get groundwater. With water injection you put some of that groundwater back in. Fracking implies that you use something other than water."

However, since the state of California does not regulate fracking, it's a distinct possibility that chemicals are being injected into the ground in L.A.'s city limits and simply calling the procedure "water injection."

"They may or may not be using fracking," Drysdale says. "We don't know."

What we do know, is that LA's oil isn't easy to get out of the ground.

"The oil in Los Angeles is molasses-like," says Drysdale. "Their stuff is like butter in Saudi Arabia. Ours is more difficult to extract. The Gasland-type fracking is typically associated with natural gas, however."

But we have gas wells in LA, too.

So is there fracking going on in LA's city limits? It's quite likely, but we still don't know yet. A bill is currently working its way through the California assembly--AB 591--designed to regulate fracking in our state. Anyone ambivalent about whether or not a company should be allowed to inject millions of gallons of unknown chemicals into the ground, might want to take a look at this map of all the oil and gas wells in Los Angeles. Methinks, when you see how close they are to your doorstep, you might just decide to give your assemblyman a ring about AB 591.

More Reading from KCET: Fracking America: We All Bear the High Cost of 'Cheap' Natural Gas by Char Miller, Director of Environmental Analysis at Pomona College


The L.A. Vitamin Report is a column about quality of life issues by Matthew Fleisher. It is brought to KCET's SoCal Focus blog in partnership with Spot.Us, which receives support from the California Endowment.

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