Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Why Drill, Baby, Drill is Harmful to Your Kids

If you or your children suffer from chronic nosebleeds, migraines, asthma and other respiratory disorders, look to those structures on top of Oat Mountain as a possible cause.  You may have been affected by past and current drilling by an oil company and the Southern California Gas Company.

Earlier this year, Termo, the company that operates the oil wells up there, has applied for a permit to build three new pads which would house up to 12 wells.  Because this area is considered a “Significant Ecological Area,” a study of the plant life has been done.  Basically, there are oak trees that will either be removed or pruned.

The next step is with the Los Angeles County Department of Regional Planning.  After public hearings take place, the department will advise the Board of Supervisors of its findings so a determination of what type of document will be required: Negative Declaration, Mitigated Negative Declaration, or Environmental Impact Review.   The final decision will rest with the Board of Supervisors.  If a NR or MND (mitigation measures may be necessary to reduce any impacts to the environment) is issued, Termo can go to the California Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), which will undoubtedly grant the permit.

If an EIR is required, public comment will hold more substance and be considered while independent environmental engineers look at the risks to the environment and nearby residents.  The EIR would address the project's environmental impacts and could recommend any mitigation and alternatives, including possibly the cancellation of the project and any anticipated proposals of new projects in its place.

Now what are the possible risks to our area and us if drilling occurs?   At the August 6 meeting of the Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council, a representative from Termo, Ralph Combs (whose great-grandfather started the company) insisted that the proposed wells will have minimal impact on our area, and will be safe because there will be monitoring going on, no risks, yada yada yada.  But even though audience members in that standing- room-only auditorium were asked not to bring up the “F” word, many did go there.

Aw, fracking.  Just in case you haven’t heard of this word, fracking is hydraulic fracturing and is used to fracture rock, such as the shale the oil company needs to shatter in order to get at the oil supply. 

When it comes to drilling in shale rock, more extreme methods are usually needed, according to experts giving the opposing side of the story at an August 23 community meeting.  Besides showing an eye-opening documentary, “Backyard,” produced by students at Montana State University, my 17-year-old daughter, I, and several other interested audience members, were informed about the dangers of well stimulation.  These techniques include: fracking, matrix acidizing (acid, often Hydrofluoric acid,  is injected into the well penetrating the rock pores at pressures below fracture pressure), cyclic steam injection (chemical free, but carries the risk of seepage and violent expulsion of oil, water and rocks), and steam flooding.

With fracking, a mixture of water, sand and chemicals is pumped at high pressure down into the wells.  We’re talking about as much as four million gallons of water per each well. This water will come from municipal supplies.  At a time when we’re being told we can’t water our lawn more than three times a week.

We’re talking about chemicals that are known to be toxic.  And once the contaminated water (flowback) is pumped back up, it is pumped back down into an injection well to be stored for all eternity.  Unless there’s a major earthquake.

And speaking of earthquakes...let's not forget the active fault lines, including the Santa Susana fault,
the Oak Ridge Fault (the first two are associated with the 1994 quake), and  the Northridge Hills Fault, that run under the proposed area of drilling and close by.  Stimulation techniques have been known for increasing earthquakes in areas such as Oklahoma, a state not normally known for seismic activity. Just ask anyone you know who lives in that area.  I did ask a childhood friend who moved to Norman, Oklahoma and raised a family there.  It’s hard for the residents of that area not to see a correlation between fracking and the shaking going on there. 

Increased seismic activity, right by those cement containers holding all those nice toxic chemicals.  What can possibly go wrong?

And what else?  Fire hazards from the release of methane.  Fires from related causes (the 2008 Sesnon fire that destroyed 15 homes was deemed to be caused by one of So Cal Gas’ power lines in the drilling area).  

Also landslides. Strange, unpleasant smells that waft this way due to the southerly wind flow.  Pollution of recreational areas such as Browns Canyon Creek.  Heavy trucks utilizing Tampa Boulevard.

Plenty of chances of “oopsies.”  Oopsies that can’t be easily cleaned up nor the damage undone.  Which could be why the City of Los Angeles banned fracking.  Unfortunately, the wells aren’t actually on top of city land.

And here’s one more thing we learned at the August 23 meeting: there’s financial risk for homeowners in Porter Ranch if fracking (or possibly other extreme methods) is used.  Major lenders such as Bank of America are starting to refuse or restrict lending to those buying houses in fracked areas.  Some insurance companies, such as Nationwide, are refusing to cover fracking-related claims.

And guess what?  At that meeting a month ago, Mr. Combs admitted that his company did use fracking in 2007 and 2011 on Oat Mountain wells.  The fluid used in 2011 (called “Lightning 2000” by its maker Baker Hughes) contained methanol, potassium carbonate, glutaraldehyde, Petroleum Distillate Blend, plus some other ingredients which can cause respiratory distress if inhaled.

And even though he said Termo intends to use conventional drilling methods for the new wells, the company can easily go back to DOGGR and get a permit to use stimulation methods as long as they received that ND or MND assessment originally.  As for residents, the only notification they would be required by law (SB-4) to receive is for anyone living within 1,500 feet of the well to be fracked.

Already concerned?  Here’s what you can do: write, email, call, tweet LA County Supervisor Michael Antonovich.  List your concerns.  Tell him that for those reasons, he needs to make sure an EIR is conducted for the North Aliso Canyon project. 

Here’s some contact info for the supervisor:
use the comment form (found under “contact us”:

Twitter:  @mikeantonovich
Need to read up more before contacting him?  There’s plenty of info on the Internet, but here’s some websites to start with.  

This is the oil company’s website about the project:

Our local city councilman Mitchell Englander introduced a resolution on July 29 urging a thorough environmental review be conducted that includes an environmental impact report for this project.  The Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council has unanimously voted to request the county get an EIR.    Right now the ball is in the county’s court. But you can help play referee for the sake of your children and our community.

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