By Lynne Bronstein
Observer Reporter 

Oil Drilling Concerns Local Activist


Meeting Scheduled About Fracking

What is “fracking?” According to the Oxford English Dictionary, hydraulic fracturing is “the forcing open of fissures in subterranean rocks by introducing liquid at high pressure, especially to extract oil or gas.”

Fracking is a term commonly used for this process.

While fracturing of rock occurs naturally, induced hydraulic fracturing has been used in oil extraction for about 60 years. Proponents say fracking is safe when conducted under regulations and that the benefits outweigh the risks. But increasing concern about fracking, especially in areas like the Plains Exploration and Production (PXP) oil fields of Baldwin Hills near Culver City, has led to discussions of safety and the need for more regulation of drilling.

Last August a settlement was reached between PXP and petitioners including the City of Culver City, Concerned Citizens of South Los Angeles, the Citizens Coalition for a Safe Community, and Community Health Councils, agreeing to additional mitigations to the existing provisions of the Baldwin Hills Community Standards District (CSD) to provide a strong framework for safeguarding the health, safety and security of the surrounding community.

But many locals who monitor the activities of PXP are skeptical of the company’s future plans. Among them is Dr. Suzanne De Benedittis, a Culver City resident and activist on oil drilling.

De Benedittis has spoken at numerous City Council and School Board and other community meetings about the need for safety in oil drilling. On May 31, from 7 to 9 p.m., she will be holding a preparatory meeting for community members who might wish to speak at the hearing to be held on June 12 by the State to allow community input on oil drilling concerns.

“If PXP is going to frack here it must be done safely,” is De Benedittis’s comment on the issue. She even questions PXP’s definition of the term.

“This supposedly common…. .practice in the petroleum industry has no common definition,” says DeBenedittis, noting that one of PXP’s documents on its website “alludes to a number of definitions of hydraulic fracturing (some of which use the term to define the term).

“Early on when Supervisor [Mark] Ridley-Thomas held informative hearings, Jon Peirson, who monitors the field, told the audience that PXP was doing nothing more than “gravel packing”-- his euphemism for a definition I requested of Dr Tom Clyde Williams, another industry expert.” (Williams is Coordinator of the Sierra Club-Angeles, Fracking Task Force in the Energy Committee.)

“According to Williams, hydraulic fracturing is the ‘injection of liquids into a formationat sufficient pressure to exceed the formation's fracturepressure - force great enough to raise the formation and breaking it in less than 12-24 hours (Rock weighs 2-3 time more than water - fracking pressure would be sufficient to lift that weight).’

“Neither mention that the liquids/proppants utilize thousands of gallons of water laced with proprietary carcinogenic chemicals produced and injected by Halliburton, nor that inherent in this process is seismicity which may induce earthquakes.”

PXP has determined from a sonar study that there are oil and gas reserves under Culver City residences and homes. The Environmental Impact Report (EIR)-CSD indicates PXP plans to drill approximately 60 wells in Culver City by 2015 and another 40 by 2028. Their plan includes four wells to be drilled from the surface area of the oil field horizontally under Ballona Creek and into the Sentous formation which is at about 10,000 feet deep.

As part of the litigated settlement, PXP is preparing a Hydraulic Fracturing Study. But DeBenedittis says “PXP is studying a well they have fracked vertically, to create a model for the planned horizontal drilling.”

The company reports using over 160,000 gallons of water per well fracked vertically---DeBenedittis sees this as a waste of precious water in a drought-ridden state.

And then there are the nearby earthquake faults. The right-lateral Newport-Inglewood Fault extends for 75 kilometers (47 mi) from Culver City southeast to Newport Beach at which point it runs out into the Pacific Ocean. The fault can be seen on the Earth's surface as a line of hills extending from Signal Hill to Culver City. The Alquist-Priolo Earthquake Fault area, with an active 7.4 fault line, is also close to the PXP field.

DeBenedittis sums it up: “[I]s it in the best interests of the 300,000 residents that live on the perimeter of the Baldwin Hills Oil Field, as too our beach adjacent neighbors who will suffer the concomitanttsunami, to allow our elected leader to permit this controversial drilling practice before all safeguards are in place and communities in the danger zones are adequately prepared?”

She lists a series of nine points that she would like to see as changes to the Culver City Municipal Code, in order to better protect local residents and businesses. These include: the City duly informing all property owners and residents of the potential risks to their health, safety, and property; that PXP indemnify the property owners and pay for any damages that may occur; that PXP put up sufficient funds in an escrow account that will pay for any damages or loss of life occurring within Culver City from its oil and gas production, with burden of proof on PXP regarding liability; and that the City provide “unbiased public education regarding the pros and cons of this controversial process and that until affected residents give their informed consent in writing, PXP cannot engage in horizontal drilling in Culver City.”

The State Meeting on Fracking will be held at the Culver City Hall on Tuesday, June 12 from 7 pm to 9. For information on the planning meeting and for general information on fracking safety, call 310.204.0570 or email to Information can also be obtained online from the Baldwin Hills Oil Field Blog at “Citizens Coalition for a Safe Community” or at


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