Culver Citizens Say No To Fracking
Workshop Yields Angry Feedback
Outside Culver City Hall on Tuesday evening protesters carried signs and cars honked at the protesters in support. The signs had slogans like “Ban Fracking Now” and “Frack Off.” Someone dressed as a skeleton carried a sign that read “I (Heart) Fracking.”
When the doors of City Hall opened, people flooded into the Mike Balkman Chambers, filling the auditorium to standing room only.
All this for a state-organized but locally hosted workshop to gauge the public sentiment about hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, the controversial process by which oil is extracted from rock via a high-pressure injection of fluids into an oil or gas reservoir. For Culver City residents and those in the surrounding area, the concern is about operations in the nearby PXP oil field.
The California Department of Conservation has been holding a series of workshops throughout the state, where they can collect feedback from citizens regarding the impact of fracking on communities. The goal of these workshops is to create regulations for fracking. But the strongly worded sentiments of many who attended the Culver City meeting sent the department a message that people want to see fracking banned outright.
Following a welcoming speech by Culver City Mayor Andrew Weissman (“….for Culver City, protecting our safety and quality of life come first,”) the audience was given a presentation by Jason Marshall, Chief Deputy Director of the Department of Conservation, and Tim Kustic, State Oil and Gas Supervisor, Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR).
Marshall explained that all the workshops, which began four weeks ago in Bakersfield and will run through July, begin with a brief overview of the history of oil drilling and fracking, after which the public is allowed to comment, two minutes for each speaker, first come first served. Pink comment cards are provided for those who don’t want to speak publicly or for those who don’t make it to the podium during the two hour meeting time. These cards can be mailed to the comments section on the Department of Conservation web site.
Kustic then gave the overview of the drilling process, complete with several diagrams of cross-sections of oil wells. He explained that while oil drilling has been done in California since the 1880s, some of the techniques being used now have only been recently developed. The oil and gas reserves close to the surface have been tapped out and to obtain the reserves deeper in the ground, technologies have been created that include off-shore drilling, slant drilling, and fracking.
In other parts of the country, said Kustic, it is possible to frack horizontally through shale. “But we don’t have massive shale deposits [in California]. So fracking here is different.”
The oil reserves here require pressure from fluids injected to create “permeability” so the resources can be released from the rock.
He showed slides of diagrams (also mounted on easels at left and right of the podium) with a diagram of a “typical well casing” and explained the way the casings protect the well from leaks.
A great deal of water is used in fracking, Kustic admitted, but added that “we have a robust regulatory program of water management.”
Marshall then stated that the Department of Conservation does not know how many wells are fracked per year because they are not getting reporting from the companies. Reporting of fracking, he said, is a voluntary act.
This outraged many in the audience. “We submit that it’s [wrong]. We need to have mandatory reporting,” Marshall replied.
Then it was time for feedback.
Tom Camarella of the Culver City Democratic Club: “We are extremely susceptible to earthquakes. That makes your simple process of fracking anything but simple.”
Dr. Tom Williams, Sierra Club: “I don’t believe we can trust you.” He cited a blowout in an abandoned well in Kenneth Hahn Dog Park. “What caused it? You don’t know. Things are regulated but they aren’t reported.”
Patricia McPherson, Grassroots Coalition: “Files are not available to the public. It’s difficult to find out where files even are.”
Damion Goodmon, known as a transit safety advocate, spoke as a resident of Baldwin Hills. “How can you even be discussing regulation?” he wondered, noting that regulation of oil drilling was like “arranging chairs on the deck of the Titanic.”
A speaker asked for a show of hands as to how many people thought regulation was the way to go. Only one hand was raised.
Another speaker complained that the larger problem was a “crisis of democracy.” Marshall asked speakers to keep on the subject of fracking.
Dr. Suzanne DeBenedittis, a leader in the fight for oil field safety, told Marshall and Kustic that she appreciated their plight of being “between a rock and a hard place” as they tried to gather responses from concerned citizens. But she also spoke of the people (and pets) in her neighborhood
who have developed cancer as a result of living near the oil field.
“If I have to go on a hunger strike to get Jerry Brown to listen, I will!”
The coup de grace was delivered by former Council and School Board member Steven Gourley. “I was told you would be bringing a map of Culver City,” he said. “How dare you……how can we explain how [the fracking] affects us when you don’t have a map? If you remove some of your propaganda I can show you!”
He then removed some of the easels with the diagrams from DOGGR mounted on them, to reveal the map of Culver City on the right-hand wall of the chamber.
With a pointer, Gourley targeted the areas where there have been crises that might be related to fracking. Blair Hills—where five houses collapsed when digging began there. Raintree—where residents could smell the oil when digging began. An area in the center of the city where nobody could build for 10 years “because of toxic water.”
Gourley concluded “You haven’t the slightest idea what goes on in this community.”
All in all, the Department of Conservation will have a great deal of homework to do after hearing from Culver City.
For those who may have missed the meeting, comments (and especially any documentation on effects of drilling and fracking) may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.