The oil and gas industry in the Los Angeles area used about 22,500 tons of chemicals that, if released into the air, can be toxic and even carcinogenic last year, according to a new report.
The report, published by the Center for Biological Diversity and three other health and environmental groups, looked at oil and gas industry-reported chemical data for 477 fracking, acidizing, and gravel packing operations in Los Angeles and Orange counties in California. It found that companies have used 44 different air toxics over the last year, pollutants that include formaldehyde, a chemical that’s a known carcinogen, as well as crystalline silica, another carcinogen, and hydrofluoric acid, which can be deadly.
According to the report, more than half of these fracking, acidizing, and gravel packing events occurred within 1,500 feet of a school, home or medical facility, with some occurring as close as 12 feet away from these buildings. The report highlights acidizing done by one oil and gas company that occurred 85 feet from houses, 145 feet from a church, and 770 feet from an elementary school.
California’s South Coast Air Quality Management District began requiring fracking operations to disclose the chemicals they used in June of last year. But so far, that rule hasn’t applied to chemical mixes that are considered “trade secrets” — according to the report, oil and gas companies in the Los Angeles area used trade secret protection 5,050 times last year. Under trade secret protection, the report states, companies only need to submit general descriptions of the chemicals used.
“These descriptions are often so vague that they do not provide the public with useful information about what chemicals were used,” the report states. “For example, some ‘trade secret’ chemicals are described as a ‘lubricant,’ ‘surfactant,’ or simply, ‘mixture.’”
Though 22,500 tons of chemicals is not insignificant, the report notes that that count comes only from reported chemical usage during well stimulation, the act of fracking itself, as well as other practices — gravel packing and acidizing — to improve the productivity of the well. The chemical data does not include chemicals or pollutants used or emitted during construction, drilling, transportation, or processing and refining.
The organizations involved in the report say the findings signal a need to stop oil and gas drilling and well stimulation in Los Angeles. That’s something the Los Angeles city council has already signaled it will do, at least temporarily: in February, the city council voted 10–0 to enact a moratorium on fracking and other well simulation in the city until the council is confident that the city’s water and residents are safe from any health or seismic effects of oil and gas development.
“We were getting sick from the emissions, with health symptoms including spontaneous nose bleeding, headaches, asthma, and much more,” LA resident Monic Uriarte said. “No one should live in the shadow of an oil well.”
Many Californians have also sought to enact a statewide moratorium on fracking, but a bill that would have enacted a ban on fracking and given the state time to study risks associated with the practice was defeated in the Senate last month, despite the fact that, according to a Sierra Club poll, a majority of Californians oppose fracking. A watchdog group’s analysis after the bill’s failure in the Senate showed that California senators who voted against the fracking ban bill took in an average of 14 times more campaign contributions from the industry than those who opposed it.