1 out of 3 People in Los Angeles Lives Within a Mile of an Oil Well

As the fight over fracking heats up, a new report shows that millions of Californians live uncomfortably close to oil and gas rigs.

(Photo: Hector Mata/Reuters)

Oct 22, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Todd Woody is TakePart's editorial director, environment.

Forget those iconic palm trees. Oil rigs have become just as much a part of the Los Angeles landscape as the towering trees that line the city’s sun-drenched boulevards.

Los Angeles County is home to 6,065 oil and gas wells, and one in three Angelenos lives within a mile of a drilling rig, according to a report from the Natural Resources Defense Council released Wednesday.

NRDC mapped the location of oil and gas wells across California, finding that 5.4 million people—14 percent of the state’s population—live within a mile of one of 84,000 drilling operations. Nearly 4 million of those Californians are either Latino, African American, or Asian American.

Oil Wells in Los Angeles County

The report comes as battles over hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, heat up. Drillers have their sights on the Monterey Shale, a geological formation that stretches from California’s oil patch in the Central Valley to Los Angeles. Containing an estimated 15.4 billion barrels of oil, the Monterey Shale is the largest such reserve in the U.S.

To extract that oil, drillers need to use fracking technology that injects highly pressurized, chemical-laced water deep underground to break up rock formations that contain fossil fuels.

“The push to use hydraulic fracturing and other well stimulation technologies to access oil from formations underlying some of the state’s most fertile agricultural lands and densely populated urban areas raises public health concerns, including harmful air pollution, contaminated ground and surface waters, and large amounts of toxic waste,” the report states. “Increased oil and gas production using these new technologies can bring more contaminants—many of which have been linked to respiratory and neurological problems, birth defects, and cancer—to backyards, communities, and cities.”

NRDC researchers correlated well location information from the state agency that regulates the oil and gas industry with data from the California Environmental Protection Agency, which identifies communities most affected by industrial pollution.

“California’s communities of color have long been dumping grounds for industrial pollution—and our analysis shows that fracking is poised to pile on more if the oil and gas industry has its way,” Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, senior scientist at NRDC, said in a statement. “Fracking is moving next door to more and more California homes, schools, and neighborhoods. From Los Angeles to the state’s farms and ranches, this industry must not be allowed to poison our people’s health.”

The report found that in Los Angeles County, 528,000 people live within 1,320 feet of an oil or gas well. About 91 percent of those residents are people of color.

Voters in Santa Barbara and San Benito counties will vote on whether to ban fracking in the November election.