Mar 19, 2012
In early 2006, smells of sulfur dioxide and crude oil released by oil drilling operations wafted through nearby residential areas in Baldwin Hills, southwest of downtown Los Angeles. Complaints about the odors came from as far as two miles away, and a number of residents evacuated the area.
Residents were stunned that one of the most extensive drilling programs in the state – drilling only hundreds of feet from some residences – had begun.
Oil companies had been quietly drilling new wells since 2002, using a technique called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” By injecting a mixture of water, sand, and toxic chemicals under high pressure into the ground, drillers are able to gain access to hard-to-reach deposits of oil and natural gas.
Nationwide, fracking has been driving an oil and natural gas boom. California is becoming one of the most important centers of this new oil boom. This has created mounting anxiety in communities throughout the Los Angeles region, from Culver City to Monterey Park, where residents are slowly discovering that new oil drilling using fracking has gone on for years, sometimes in densely populated areas.
Injecting huge amounts of substances, including toxic chemicals, into the ground multiplies the usual dangers of oil spills and hazardous gas leaks. Toxic chemicals injected into the ground often pollute the water table. Fracking has also been found to be responsible for setting off earthquakes! The United States Geological Survey (USGS) reports that, “Earthquakes induced by human activity have been documented in a few locations” in the United States, Japan, and Canada, “the cause [of which] was injection of fluids into deep wells for waste disposal and secondary recovery of oil, and the use of reservoirs for water supplies.” Seismologists at Columbia University recently reported that several earthquakes in Ohio throughout 2011 – including a substantial, magnitude 4.0 on New Year's Eve that had hit Youngstown – are linked to the hydraulic fracturing process.
Obviously, there is the danger that fracking in the vastly populated Los Angeles region, that sits on literally thousands of earthquake faults, could set off a much worse catastrophe.
However, when residents and community groups have looked to government authorities for help, they have been met by a wall of silence. A 2005 amendment to the Safe Drinking Water Act, pushed through by Republican George Bush, allows oil companies to not divulge what chemicals they inject into the ground. As for the state government, only last month, Democratic Governor Jerry Brown declared that he would make sure that there would be minimal oversight over the oil industry, and even fired two top state regulators who opposed him on this.
Obviously for the politicians of both parties, what counts above all else are the profits of the oil and gas industry. Their watchword is: Let the health and safety of millions of people be damned!