Halt fracking until safety evaluated, protocols established
Imagine waking up one morning to the smell of poison in the air. You’re not sure what it is, but you know it’s not normal. Your family, your neighbors — they smell it too, the stench of what can only be described as chemicals burning.
Weeks go by and then the headaches start. Your daughter comes indoors with a bloody nose, again, and she’s having trouble breathing, again. Your nightly routine includes checking on her every hour to make sure she doesn’t choke in her sleep. You wonder, as your kids run and play in the neighborhood park, what all those oil derricks, pumping a stone’s throw away, are injecting into the earth and spewing into the air.
You’ve grown used to the heavy trucks hauling barrels of chemicals and drilling equipment into your neighborhood, carrying profitable fossil fuel out. The noise from the trucks, combined with that of the drilling, has kept you awake at night.
This is the reality for Angeleno families living and working near oil and gas extraction sites. These are the stories they share when seeking explanations and relief. We know that the chemicals used in unconventional well stimulation operations, like fracking and acidization, can have devastating impacts on our health and our environment. Yet these practices are legal and largely unregulated across communities throughout Los Angeles.
My south Los Angeles district is pockmarked with oil fields stretching from the Cheviot Hills, Beverly Hills and Las Cienegas sites to the Inglewood oil field which surrounds much of Kenneth Hahn State Park, the largest urban oil field in the country. There are a million Angelenos living within a 5-mile radius of the Inglewood oil derricks.
Just a few miles to the east, growing fears about acidization — the infusion of chemicals to dissolve underground rock, allowing access to trapped oil — recently drew more than 300 residents to a West Adams community meeting to complain about the odors, noise, street damage, and the health and safety risks associated with the use of toxic chemicals near their homes, schools and care facilities. In the event of an emergency, it would be extremely difficult to evacuate residents from this vulnerable neighborhood.
The story is just as disturbing in University Park. Residents living near a drill site complained of a noxious odor accompanied by chronic dizziness, nausea and respiratory problems. It took three years, repeated protests, and more than 200 official complaints before regulatory agencies stepped in to inspect the site and take air samples. Unsurprisingly, some of those doing the inspections experienced similar symptoms. In the face of mounting community and government pressure, the site operator has shut down the facility — temporarily.
It is disconcerting that many of these well operations are hidden from view and residents only learn what’s going on when the trucks carrying harmful chemicals and equipment come into the neighborhood. Some of these oil fields were dormant and have only recently been tapped again, using new techniques to maximize oil and gas extraction. An intricate web of pipes moving thousands of gallons of poisonous, corrosive and potentially explosive chemicals expands unseen directly beneath a multitude of homes, schools and community centers near downtown.
It is time to stop exposing neighborhoods to unsuspected toxic risks, calling for disclosure and safety measures only as an afterthought. We need a moratorium on fracking and acidization now, until their safety has been demonstrated and their use does not impose more burdens on minority and low-income communities than elsewhere. Let’s put the health and needs of people first.
Published in Los Angeles Daily News (http://www.dailynews.com/opinion/20140227/halt-fracking-until-safety-evaluated-protocols-established-holly-mitchell)