Residents of Porter Ranch have demanded a full assessment and environmental impact report (EIR) of a Long Beach oil drilling company’s proposal to expand oil drilling operations in the Santa Susana Mountains from 18 to 30 wells.
The residents believe that the operation by Termo puts their health at risk, poses possible groundwater contamination, and they question the wisdom of drilling so close to an earthquake fault line.
The residents have formed a group called “Save Porter Ranch,” and have teamed up with the organization Food and Water Watch. They announced their opposition at a press conference that included parents from Castlebay Lane Elementary School, the Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council, petroleum geologist Dr. Tom Williams for the the Citizens Coalition for a Safe Community.
The residents’ group told the L.A. County Board of Supervisors this week that the oil field has already caused concerns. Some residents have complained about a strong oil smell that lingers in the air, and they believe the oil drilling operations have caused unexplained nosebleeds, asthma, migraine headaches, allergies and other health risks.
“Termo’s proposed wells would be located above Browns Creek, a headwater for the L.A. River; along the Santa Susana Fault, the most volatile in the San Fernando Valley; in a high-risk fire zone; and near homes and schools,” a Save Porter Ranch spokesman told the Supervisors, adding that “producing oil and gas from shale rock requires extreme production methods such as fracking, acidizing and high-rate gravel packing. These extreme methods have led to the contamination of drinking water, increases in toxic air pollution, smog, and earthquakes, among other issues.”
They object to the oil company’s request to add wells to its North Aliso Canyon Field, north of the Santa Susana Ridgeline. “We want the Termo application rejected,” residents told the Supervisors.
Termo officials gave a very different view.
The oil field has been in continuous production since 1938 and sits about a mile and half away from Porter Ranch, according to Termo spokesman Ralph Combs. “The community has grown up around the field,” he said, telling City News Service that “no significant concerns’” had been raised by residents over the years.
But residents disputed his claim and told the Supervisors that they were worried about “fracking,” also known as hydraulic fracturing.
Fracking is very controversial. It is the process of injecting water, sand and chemicals at high pressure to produce fractures in underlying rock formation to stimulate the flow of oil. It has been used since the 1940s, but has experienced a boom as gas prices have gone high enough to make the technology profitable.
This process is opposed by environmentalists who are concerned with the impact on groundwater and seismic faults. Industry proponents argue that hydraulic fracturing, properly executed, is a safe way to move toward energy independence.
Combs said that “hydraulic fracturing is not proposed for this project,” but residents countered that the permit to expand the operation, if approved, would give the company leeway to use hydraulic fracturing in the future.
A representative of the Department of Regional Planning said it has not yet begun work on an initial study to determine whether a full EIR is required because it is still waiting for additional information from Termo.
L.A. City Councilmember Mitch Englander has already called for a full EIR.
Termo has roughly 155 wells nationwide and fracking has been used to stimulate production in about nine of those wells, according to Combs. In 2007 and 2011, the company used fracking on two wells in the North Aliso Canyon Field.
The North Aliso Canyon Field is not in a groundwater basin, but opponents point out that the wells would be situated above Browns Creek, a headwater for the Los Angeles River. The river functions largely as a concrete flood control channel through much of the county.
Termo is just one of several oil operators in that area of the Santa Susana Mountains, home to roughly 150 wells, according to Save Porter Ranch. The family-owned oil company has been reaching out to area residents here to try and alleviate their concerns.
“We are committed to working with the community and the Department of Regional Planning,” Combs said.
A county spokesman said public hearings would be held on the matter once an initial study is completed. But residents who believe that the operations are responsible for their health problems, and pose risks to themselves and the environment, are unlikely to be persuaded regardless of what future studies conclude.
“No matter what the Termo project proposes, significant environmental impact is inevitable,” according to the “Save Porter Ranch” group statement read to the board.