What The Frack Is Under My Bed?

By Suzy Williams

I’ve got some good news and some bad news.

First, the bad news:  They’re fracking in Culver City.  That’s right, our next-door neighbor has a 1,000-acre oil field with old wells now being used for hydraulic fracturing, which means that at this moment there COULD be fracking right underneath us, because at a certain depth, fracking becomes horizontal. And fracking has been found to cause seismic disturbances.

The good news is that these small earthquakes will most likely not be the cause of The Big One. I spoke this weekend with Dr. Greg Lyzenga, Professor of Geophysics at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont. I told him of my concern that hydraulic fracturing might cause a domino effect, with small tremors triggering bigger, and then bigger quakes, then- POW!  But Dr. Lyzenga gave assurance that because of the discrepancies in magnitude and depth  (2 miles for fracking versus ten miles to the San Andreas Fault),  it would be as if a sparrow landing on a car could cause the car to roll over a cliff.  (I dug his wife’s sweatshirt motto: “STOP PLATE TECTONICS”)

But the bad news gets worse:  The fracking going on right now in Culver City and Baldwin Hills is un-regulated and un-monitored. The big Texas oil company that runs these operations, Plains Exploration & Productions (PXP) was forced to do a study of itself  (I’m getting a fox-guarding-the-henhouse image here) by the Community Health Councils and the Culver City municipal government, among others last summer and that report still isn’t due until July.   And we know – if we’ve seen “Gasland,” the great doc by Josh Fox – that fracking is rife with environmental risk for our ground water and our air.

A point that was brought up recently (April 16) in a much–bandied-about article in Mother Jones is that even more than fracking itself, the practice of injecting the vast amounts of its wastewater into wells is a concern regarding quakes.  Seismologist Bill Ellsworth explained that these wells go deeper than gas drilling wells, reaching an older layer called  “basement rock,” where stresses and faults are more common. He told NPR that these “perturbances can tip the scales, allowing an earthquake that might not otherwise happen for a long time.”

So we need to know, and sooner than July and not just from the oil company itself, how the wastewater is being disposed of.  There’s no really great way, but the wastewater well concept is not acceptable.

Categories: Environment