Fracturing at California site safe, says industry-funded study

Hydraulic fracturing for oil in Los Angeles poses no threat to the environment, according to a study funded by the owner of one of the largest urban oil fields in the U.S.

The findings Wednesday come from a year-long study by Plains Exploration & Production Co., owner of the Inglewood oil field in the Baldwin Hills section of Los Angeles. Hydraulic fracturing or fracking of two test wells revealed no threat to groundwater, air quality or added risk of induced seismic activity, according to the report.

The report comes weeks before the California Department of Conservation is set to release draft rules for fracturing, in which millions of gallons of chemically treated water and sand are forced underground to shatter rock and release trapped oil or natural gas. California has generic rules for oil and gas drilling but no specific rules for fracturing, a technique that has been linked to water contamination and air pollution in other states.

“It sounds like the report has found that, based on the tests, it doesn’t seem like there were impacts from fracking that we should be worried about,” Damon Nagami, senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in an interview. “It is attracting a lot of attention.”

Fracturing is being used widely from North Dakota to Pennsylvania and is credited with boosting U.S. production of oil and gas. California regulators have asked drillers to voluntarily disclose when fracturing is used to complete oil or gas wells, according to Don Drysdale, a spokesman for the Department of Conservation.

The state senate in May defeated a bill that would have required drillers to notify neighbors in advance of fracking. Separate measures to place a moratorium on fracking and to require that drillers disclose chemicals used in the process died in committee.

“We don’t have a good handle on it,” Drysdale said in an interview.

Houston-based Plains hired the consulting firm Cardno ENTRIX to undertake the study as part of a settlement with Culver City and environmental and community groups. The 1,000- acre Inglewood field is surrounded by Culver City, Baldwin Hills and Inglewood making it among the largest urban oil field in the U.S.

The field holds an estimated 400 million barrels of oil, according to Wednesday’s report.

“The study is limited to this field,” Nagami said. “It’s funded by Plains Exploration. We need additional review by agencies in California with expertise in these issues.”