Falling crude oil prices accomplished in a few months what four years of community protest could not in the L.A.-adjacent city of Carson.
California Resources Corporation (CRC) announced this week that it was abandoning a plan to drill some 200 oil wells in the Dominguez Oil Field, despite having the personal support of Governor Jerry Brown. The company, a spin-off of Occidental Petroleum Corporation’s California assets last year, still holds the lease to the property and could change its mind anytime. But for now, CRC has withdrawn its application to dig the wells.
“We have greatly appreciated the opportunity to get to know and work with the Carson community,” the company said in a press release, but they concluded the project “is no longer practical in the current commodity price environment.”
Carson residents thought it was no longer practical back in 2012 when Occidental indicated in documents that it planned to use hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to extract oil that might not otherwise be accessible. Fracking injects thousands of gallons of pressurized water, sand and toxic chemicals into the ground to crack open wells and has been linked to groundwater contamination, air pollution, releases of methane gas, micro-earthquakes and sinkholes.
Occidental backed off its avowed intention to use fracking, but the Carson City Council voted unanimously last March to ban new oil and gas drilling for 45 days while it studied a longer moratorium. The vote came just two days after a 4.4-earthquake jolted Los Angeles and a report (pdf) came out linking quakes to fracking.
Although the L.A. earthquake was not blamed on injection wells, like those used with fracking, its epicenter was eight miles from one. A spokesman for the Western States Petroleum Association told the Los Angeles Times he thought Carson was the first city in California to ever ban drilling, even for a short period of time.
The moratorium didn’t last long. Two members of the council flipped their vote in April and one abstained in the face of sustained political pressure and lobbying by unions and interest groups. There was no extension.
Opposition to the drilling didn’t end with the council’s vote switch. “Our health is in jeopardy,” Latrice Carter, an activist with the Carson Coalition Group, told the Torrance Daily Breeze back in April. “Every day we wake up and breathe all the toxins from the current air pollutants in our neighborhoods. They voted to continue the plague placed on our health even further.”
Carson is not unfamiliar with oil drilling. The Dominguez Oil Field was first developed in 1921. More than 600 wells have been drilled there over the years, producing some 270 million barrels of oil. Occidental indicated it wanted to extract another 52 million barrels from the field.
Community activists were happy with the turn of events, but it would be premature to declare victory and go home. CRC Vice President of Communications Margita Thompson told the Daily Breeze, “We would expect to increase our activity level if commodity prices improve.”