Inglewood oil field

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The Inglewood oil field covers 1,000 acres in Inglewood, Los Angeles County, California. Oil and gas was discovered there in 1924, and 1,600 wells were drilled by 2010. It is one of the largest urban oilfields in the U.S., with more than one million people living within five miles of the site.[1] Most of the oil field is located in unincorporated Los Angeles County.


Oil and gas was discovered in the area in 1924, when it was primarily empty fields. Production peaked a year later when 176 new wells were drilled, but by the 1990s an average of less than four new wells were drilled per year. Assuming that oil drilling would eventually phase out, people began to settle near the Inglewood field, and voters approved creation of the largest urban park in the country.[2]

In 2003, Houston-based Plains Exploration & Production (PXP), which had acquired the drilling rights from Chevron, unearthed a 65 percent-untapped oil and gas reservoir underneath Culver City extending out to Venice Boulevard. In 2004, PXP used new technology to discover that only 35 percent of the reserves had been pumped out and began to drill the first of what the company expected to become 600 new wells over the next 20 years. The renewed push for oil was helped along by county and state regulators who determined that the additional wells did not require any environmental review.[2]

According to e-mails acquired by The Associated Press and an investigation by the state auditor, one state engineer - Floyd Leeson - charged with granting new permits apparently saw himself as more of a cheerleader for Plains than an impartial regulator, owning stock in the company (PXP) whose wells he was approving, and soliciting donations from the oil companies he regulated for his wife's nonprofit.[2]

Deep drilling and fracking

Fumes leak

In 2006 noxious fumes - methane gas and hydrogen sulfide - leaked out from PXP deep drilling sites in two separate incidents, forcing home evacuations. It was then that many residents discovered the drilling was not going to end anytime soon. Many were unaware that PXP, using 3-D imaging to discover where the crude remained, had ramped up drilling in 2004. In addition to drilling as deep as 10,000 feet, the company was also employing fracking to access the oil. The first of the new wells averaged 800 barrels of crude daily.[2]

Expediting Plains' permits at the time was Floyd Leeson, an engineer with the state Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources. Following the gas leak, Leeson privately warned Plains officials that his department was about to place a hold on permits so they should submit their requests soon, according to a state auditor's investigation. Before the county issued a temporary moratorium on new drilling in June 2006, Leeson approved 24 new wells in three days. Leeson was later investigated by the state auditor, which found that the regulator misused his position and should have been protecting the state's interests.[2]

Community standards district

In 2007 the county board held hearings and eventually created a special set of regulations by 2008 governing drilling - the Baldwin Hills Community Standards District (CSD), an amendment to its zoning code establishing development standards and operating procedures for oil and gas production operations for the unincorporated portion of the Inglewood oil field located in the Baldwin Hills Zoned District. Drilling was capped at 600 wells. According to PXP, the company voluntarily funded an environmental impact review (EIR) and agreed to adopt more regulations. The Board certified the final EIR for the proposed CSD on October 21, 2008, and PXP again began applying for permits.[3]

The county and the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) approved PXP's 2011 annual drilling plan, giving PXP the green light to drill up to 53 wells over the course of the year.[4]

Lawsuits and moratorium

Residents, however, said the EIR did not consider fracking, among other oversights. By the end of 2008, local residents and community groups had filed four separate lawsuits over the issue. A judge consolidated the suits into one.[2] The lawsuit challenged the adequacy of the EIR and the Board's approval of the CSD, among other things.[3]

Citizens Coalition for a Safe Community also requested an injunction to stop PXP drilling in the Inglewood oilfield until a proper "industry standard" study of health and safety issues in the PXP oilfield and adjacent neighborhoods is done. In 2009, the city of Inglewood adopted an ordinance imposing a moratorium on drilling of any oil well within the city's jurisdiction, to give the city time to amend its oil drilling regulations. The city imposed the moratorium after the state DOGGR issued permits for new drilling wells to PXP.[5]


In 2011 the parties reached a settlement, requiring PXP to to develop and submit to the County an annual drilling, redrilling, well abandonment and well pad restoration plan, as well as provide a study on the "feasibility and potential impacts (including impacts to groundwater and subsidence) of the types of fracturing operations PXP may conduct in the Oil Field" to be completed within one year. The settlement also capped PXP drilling wells to 500 by 2028, among other requirements.[3] A chart explaining the additional protections under the settlement and comparing them to what the community previously had can be found here (PDF).


In 2012 it was reported that PXP was again using fracking in the Inglewood Oil Field. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the community that surrounds the oil field did not know about the 2012 test fracking until March 9, after the fracking was complete. According to FracFocus, the two vertical wells were fracked in September 2011 and January 2012. PXP used up to 168,000 gallons of water laced with chemicals in one well to a depth of about one and half miles. PXP said the frac jobs were necessary for its fracking study, part of the 2011 settlement over its drilling, but environmental groups say the industry could have relied upon other data.[6]

The state DOGGR has admitted they do not know where all the state's fracked wells are located, and there is no monitoring system in California for fracking. Communities hope some of these issues will be resolved with the PXP fracking study and proposed state regulations around disclosure and notification.[7]

On May 15, 2012, Food & Water Watch joined with Gasland's Josh Fox, Environment California, Citizens Coalition for a Safe Community, Grassroots Coalition, and residents of surrounding neighborhoods to call for a ban on fracking in California, presenting the signatures of 50,000 Californians who have signed petitions supporting a ban.[8]

Proposed fracking sites

According to Citizens Coalition for a Safe Community, PXP has presented drilling plans to the state detailing the drilling of six horizontal wells under the residential neighborhoods of Culver City, and it "is probable these wells are planned to be hydraulically fractured to stimulate this formation known as the Sentous." Two wells previously drilled in this deep zone in 2006 led to the January and February accidental releases of toxic gases. In May 2012, the group said that recent DOGGR records indicate the re-permitting of two of the Culver City wells, and "one can only speculate that the 2013 PXP Drilling Plan will include those additional wells originally slated for drilling directly under Culver City residential homes with 94 more to follow."[9]

The Los Angeles County Environmental Impact Report for the Baldwin Hills Community Standards District had over sixty wells listed as being potentially drilled into Culver City between 2010 and 2015 with another forty by 2028. The EIR for the Unincorporated Surface Area of Los Angeles County did not mention or include any analysis of the environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing. As of 2012, the City of Culver City is working with residents to update the Municipal Code, Chapter 11.12 Oil, Gas and Hydrocarbons which regulates oil and gas drilling.[10]


Oil production at the field averaged between 2.5 - 3.1 million barrels a year from 2000 to 2010. According to the Inglewood oil field website: "PXP's engineers estimate that as much as 50% of the field's oil resources remain in place in producing zones and can be readily accessed through drilling and production activities... with technological advancements in the oil and gas industry."[1]

Accidents and hazards

Baldwin Hills Reservoir

On December 14, 1963, water burst through the foundation and earth dam of the Baldwin Hills Reservoir, a hilltop water storage facility located in metropolitan Los Angeles. The contents of the reservoir, some 250 million gallons of treated water that had filled the 20-acre basin to a depth of 70 feet, emptied within hours onto the communities below the Baldwin Hills, inundating a square mile of residences with mud and debris, and damaging or destroying 277 homes. Geologists say the disaster occurred as a result of displacement along faults in the unconsolidated sediments that underlie the reservoir, cracking the floor lining. On the day after the failure, it was apparent that major offset had occurred along what was to become known as the "Reservoir fault," the west side of the fault having moved relatively downward with respect to the east side.[11]

Two lawsuits filed in 1966 by insurers against the oil companies active in the Inglewood oil field at the time of dam failure charged that the oil field operations had led to the events directly associated with the breaching of the dam. These suits were settled out of court for nearly $3.9 million dollars. Origin of the ruptures is a question that remains unadjudicated.[11]

Following the discovery in 1970 by geologist Douglas Hamilton of faulting and surface seepage of oilfield waste brines along the fault which traversed the reservoir, Hamilton and co-author Richard Meehan concluded in a 1971 article published in Science that oilfield injection for waste disposal and improved recovery of oil, a new technology at the time, was a significant cause of the failure, triggering movements on a fault traversing the reservoir even on the day of the failure.[11]

According to their study: In 1943, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power found that comparison of leveling surveys indicated that elevation changes were taking place in the area. By 1955 there was sufficient data available to establish that the changes in elevation defined a bowl-shaped area of subsidence, the outline of which appeared to coincide with the outline of the Inglewood oil field. In 1957, 6 years after the water reservoir had been put into operation, the beginning of surface cracking and faulting in the vicinity of the intersection of Stocker and La Brea streets, southeast of the reservoir, attracted the attention of public officials. Displacement along subsidiary faults generally occurs in response to a relatively greater displacement along the principal fault, but there is no evidence of strain along the Inglewood fault or nearby major faults in the Baldwin Hills or adjacent area, suggesting more than natural factors like tectonic theory is at play. The article noted: "In considering the possible cause-and-effect relations among [oil/gas drilling] injector activity, subsurface problems, and fault movements, it seems significant that all recorded episodes of fault movement since 1957 have occurred after one or more of the following: initiation of injection in nearby wells, increases of injection pressure, or problems such as dropping of fluid pressure concomitant with increases of fluid take, loss of fluid in narrow zones, and so on. The sequence of events suggests that the injection caused or contributed to the movement."[11]



  1. 1.0 1.1 "History of Inglewood Oil Field," Inglewood Oil Field website, accessed May 2012.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 AP, "Oil field near 'black Beverly Hills' may be threat to residents," theGrio, March 15, 2010.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Settlement Agreement and Mutual Release, July 15, 2011.
  4. Natalie Ragus, "Inglewood oil field controversy near an end," USC Watt Way, April 28, 2011.
  5. "Save our Homes, Neighborhoods, Children and Wetlands: Petition for Writ of Mandamus 2," Grassroots Coalition, accessed May 2012.
  6. Ngoc Nguyen, "Fracking in Los Angeles? Test Wells at Urban Oil Field Spark Water Worries," Inside ClimateNews, April 13, 2012.
  7. Damon Nagami, "Fracking in the Baldwin Hills," NRDC, March 9, 2012.
  8. "Citizens, Groups Calling for a Ban on Fracking in California," Food & Water Watch, May 15, 2012.
  9. "COMMUNITY ALERT: Is horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing under Culver City residences going to be in our future?" Citizens Coalition for a Safe Community press release, May 2012.
  10. "COMMUNITY ALERT: Is horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing under Culver City residences going to be in our future?" Citizens Coalition for a Safe Community press release, May 2012.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 Hamilton, DH; Meehan, RL, "Ground Rupture in the Baldwin Hills, Science 172 (3981): 333–344. doi:10.1126/science.172.3981.333. PMID 17756033. (23 April 1971).

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