“Drill, Baby, Drill!” That was the popular 2008 slogan of the McCain-Palin campaign. Five years later, many Americans still aren’t aware of the implications of drilling, or “fracking,” as it’s called in the oil industry.
Hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” is the process of pumping a mixture of water and other chemicals into the ground at high pressure to fracture rocks and release the oil or natural gas that is trapped inside. Fracking is occurring all over the U.S., with a number of new sites being considered for drilling in the near future. Many advocates for fracking argue that domestic drilling allows the U.S. to use its natural resources and alleviates foreign oil and coal dependency. Those against fracking warn of the threat it poses to the environment, including polluting air and drinking water with toxic chemicals, triggering earthquakes, threatening the global climate and destroying ecosystems.
This week, the University of Texas released a peer-reviewed study finding that leaks due to fracking during oil well completions may cause fewer greenhouse gas emissions than the Environmental Protection Agency had estimated, a conclusion that made many in the petroleum industry very happy. But the study also showed that leaks that take place elsewhere in the fracking process that are not regulated by the EPA were twice what the E.P.A. had estimated. Despite these ongoing debates, fracking is legal in this country, with few regulations and little transparency.
In my hometown of Los Angeles, the 1,000-acre Inglewood Oil Field sits on an earthquake fault, is surrounded by nearly 300,000 homes, and is the largest urban oil field in the country. One need only drive by to see the rigs drilling on a daily basis. Residents in the area have complained of sudden cracks and shifts in the very foundations of their homes. The field is visible from the elementary school I attended — and where my mother still teaches—where, recently, a large sinkhole has mysteriously appeared in the middle of the school’s playground. Teachers were tested this summer for chemicals in their bodies, and received notification that benzene, a carcinogen linked to cancer and commonly used as a gasoline additive, had been found at elevated levels in their bodies — and still, the drilling continues.
Last year, Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) introduced Bill 1323, which called for a moratorium on fracking statewide, mandating that California’s Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Agencies complete a study of its safety by January 2016. The bill would have allowed fracking to resume if its safety could be demonstrated and regulations were put in place to keep it safe and ensure monitoring. Mitchell says that the issue was brought literally to her doorstep by a group of concerned residents that lived in proximity to the Inglewood Oil Field.