Activists React with Skepticism
On Tuesday night, about 200 community members and elected officials gathered at the Knox Presbyterian Church in Ladera Heights to hear PXP (Plains Exploration and Production)’s long-awaited report on the effects of hydraulic fracturing (also known as fracking.)
The report, which became available to the public online on October 10 (www.Inglewoodoilfield.com), stated that in areas such as groundwater, seismic disturbance, and health risks, hydraulic fracturing did not present any measurable danger to the environment.
Dr. Daniel Tormey, whose firm Cardno Entrix prepared the report, and who gave the presentation, remained unflappable although protesters interrupted his talk several times.
Dr. Tormey holds a Ph.D in geology and geochemistry from M.I.T, and a B.S. in geology from Stanford. His explanations of the process of hydraulic fracturing and the structure of the layers of earth and rock in a typical oil reserve may have been too technical for some in the audience to understand.
Showing diagrams on slides, Dr. Tormey explained the layers of shale and sandstone between which water and oil can be found. Shallower layers at around 500 feet constitute a “fresh water” zone. There are deeper zones in the rock where oil must be tapped via the application of water pressure.
What effect does hydraulic fracturing have on seismic activity? According to the report, there are “microseismic events” at times before, during, and after hydraulic fracturing. These “events” measure minus 2 to minus 3 on the Richter scale. A seismic event that can be felt has to measure at least a plus 3.
Monitoring shows that these microseismic events are located in shallow areas and are not related to the tectonic events (earthquakes) that occur when there is seismic activity deeper in the earth.
In terms of hydrogeology, two thirds of the drinking water of the Baldwin Hills area (including Culver City) comes from the Colorado River or Northern California and is not affected by water use from hydraulic fracturing. The one third that comes from ground water comes from sources at least a mile and a half away from the Inglewood Oil Field. “All public drinking water is tested,” assured Dr. Tormey.
Methane gas is another issue in regard to hydraulic fracturing. According to the report, although testing showed elevated methane levels in the wells, isotopic analyses conducted on the same wells did not find any indication that hydraulic fracturing fluids or saline produced water had polluted the groundwater aquifers.
When it was finally time for questions, the first in line was anti-fracking activist Dr. Tom Williams (a retired geologist) who stated that casings for oil wells were known to leak “This is not safe,” he exclaimed to applause from other anti-fracking activists.
Dr.Tormey reiterated the studies that had been done and the evidence that was found that “microseismic events did not extend to wells.” Someone in the audience cried out” “That’s not an answer.”
Other questions concerned the content of the water used in hydraulic fracturing. Dr. Tormey explained the process, that the fluid used is typically 95 per cent water, 4.5 percent sand, and 0.5 percent chemicals. Some, like “guar gum” (which is also used in ice cream) are added to increase the viscosity of the fluid in order to release the oil in the rock. The chemicals are later filtered out of the water.
Prior to the meeting, a group called FoodandWaterWatch held a press conference in the parking lot of the church, with television cameras present.
While activists held up signs with slogans like “PXP Study Serves the Bottom Line,” a spokesperson said that not only did the study have “nothing to address as far as the community is concerned,” but that the peer review of the study had been done by someone who had been “discredited.” This was a reference to one of the reviewers, John P. Martin, Ph.D of JP Martin Energy LLC, who caused controversy with a study that claimed the practice is safe in Pennsylvania because of state oversight and better industry practices.
Meghan Sahli-Wells, Jim Clarke, and Mayor Andrew Weissman of the Culver City Council were all present at the PXP meeting. The Council has delayed action on fracking issues until after the release of the hydraulic fracturing study.
Culver City was a litigant in the 2008 lawsuit against PXP that resulted in a settlement that among other things required the issuance of a hydraulic fracturing study.