Los Angeles: Anti-Fracking Champion?

By: Arlo Bender-Simon

While Kern County is home to over 75% of California’s fossil fuel production and the Bay area is California’s hub for social justice activism, Los Angeles County is home to millions of people living right next to oil and gas operations.

Part 1: Context

There are more than 84,000 existing oil & gas wells within California; 63,450 of those reside in Kern County, 6,065 in Los Angeles County[1]. We know that the extraction of oil pollutes the Earth; be it during site preparation, drilling, production, transportation, refining, or consumption, our addiction to fossil fuels has very real, toxic impacts at all stages.

For most Californians, pollution from fossil fuels is a distant threat. Sure it is contributing to global warming and maybe we breathe some of it in when moving around our daily lives, but we don’t think about it much and when/if we do, it is at our leisure.

In October 2014, the Natural Resources Defense Council released a report titled Drilling In California: Who’s At Risk? The numbers of oil & gas wells in California, cited earlier, are from this report. This document identifies 5.4 million California residents living within one mile of an oil or gas well. That is roughly 14% of the state’s population; for them, pollution from fossil fuel extraction is a day-to-day reality.

(This does not consider those who live within a mile of storage facilities, processing facilities or refineries.)

Where Does LA Fit In?

Ok. The vast majority of fracking, and fossil fuel extraction in general, is happening in Kern County; it seems like here is where you should focus to bring about a halt to fracking in California.

While Kern County hosts roughly ten times as many wells as Los Angeles, 3.5 million residents of LA county (roughly one in three) live within one mile of an oil or gas well[2]. Engaging even ten percent of them in a dialogue about the future of fracking the golden state would mean that hundreds of thousands of LA residents would be talking about this.

(Efforts in Kern County can only be boosted by an active Los Angeles and the solidarity that results will be beautiful.)

As with the rest of California, drilling for oil and gas got going in Los Angeles towards the end of the 19th century. Many oil fields are spread across the LA basin, and businessmen, mining engineers, and speculators moved in to exploit the booming resource. As the 20th century progressed, each of these fields became home to a forest of drilling towers.



Figure 1-Signal Hill, Long Beach, 1937 (Left) and Venice, 1952 (Right) [3]

In 1890, the population of Los Angeles County was a little over 100,000 people, about half of that being LA city. It grew fast, by 1930 the city’s population had jumped to over one million and by 1960 the county’s population had surpassed six million[4]. As more and more people added to the growth of urban Los Angeles, little care was taken to separate residents from drilling, and this is reflected today by wells literally surrounded by residential neighborhoods and parking lots.

Figure 2 – Signal Hill, 2014 (left)                     This building on Pico Blvd camouflages 50+ wells (right) [5]

Today, Los Angeles is home to roughly four million people. Add six million spread throughout the county and millions more in neighboring Orange County and you get one of the largest urban areas on the planet. As a child who grew up in LA, I know that people talk about the pollution that such an urban mass spews out, but the focus is all on cars and freeways. As if individuals going on with their daily lives are responsible, not the massive fossil fueled network in which they move about.

For too long, the health effects of thousands of oil wells upon the residents of Los Angeles have been neglected. For too long, the people of Los Angeles have been complacent while a few drilling companies suck oil from beneath their feet and dump toxins into their air. For too long, the city of Los Angeles has allowed the fossil fuel industry to proceed with the laxest of oversight.

This can stop.

Figure 3: The bright red signifies areas at risk from multiple sources of environmental pollution, the locations of wells are marked, fracked/acidized/gravel-packed wells are highlighted; pg. 7 Drilling In CA: Who’s At Risk

City Council Votes To Ban Fracking In City Limits

On February 28, 2014 Los Angeles made history by becoming the largest city in the United States to move to prohibit the controversial drilling process. In a 10-0 vote, the LA City Council directed city officials to draft a moratorium on fracking, to remain in effect until the process can be scientifically proven to be safe[6]. Leadership achieved! Sort of…almost a year later we have yet to see draft legislation for the proposed ordinance.

Until that happens, Los Angeles residents will continue to wait for action to be taken on a decision made last winter. At the same time, the rest of the state continues to wait for real leadership on the fracking front, which could be as simple as a moratorium imposed by the governor…Jerry Brown, are you listening?

Come out to the March For Real Climate Leadership in Oakland on February 7th to demand Jerry Brown to ban fracking and acidizing in the state of California…if New York can do it, so can we!

Part 2 Coming Soon.


[1] Tanja Srebotnjak & Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, Drilling In California: Who’s At Risk, NRDC, http://www.nrdc.org/health/files/california-fracking-risks-report.pdf, accessed 12/2/14, pg. 9

[2] Srebotnjak et Al., pg. 11.

[3] Alan Taylor, Urban Oil Fields Of Los Angeles, The Atlantic, August 24, 2014, http://www.theatlantic.com/infocus/2014/08/the-urban-oil-fields-of-los-angeles/100799/. (accessed 12/27/14)

[4] Historical Resident Population City & County Of Los Angeles, 1850 to 2010, Los Angeles Almanac, http://www.laalmanac.com/population/po02.htm. (accessed 12/27/14)

[5] Taylor, Urban Oil Fields Of Los Angeles.

[6] City Council Passes LA “Fracking” Ban, CBS Los Angeles, February 28, 2014, http://losangeles.cbslocal.com/2014/02/28/city-council-to-vote-on-la-fracking-moratorium/. (accessed 12/27/14)

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