In California, there is no regulation of fracking, even as the state faces sudden growth in oil drilling. And those on the frontlines of that energy rush are troubled.
Photos & Captions by Chris Jordan-Bloch
Walt Desatoff looks out the window of his bedroom at the oil field across the street from his home in Shafter, California. A few years ago the field was filled with roses. Now Desatoff sees multiple oil pumpjacks and a giant flare. He's had to cancel graduation parties and Easter Eggs hunts at his home because of the noise and air pollution caused by the extremely close industrialization.
"It's changed everything around here," says Desatoff. "I spend so much of my time dealing with this now."
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Walt Desatoff drives past an oil rig near his home in Shafter, CA. Desatoff has seen several of the rigs sprout up near his home in the past few years.
In California, there is no regulation of fracking, even as the state faces sudden growth in oil drilling. (Update: In September 2013, Gov. Brown signed SB-4, a controversial bill that fails to protect the public from hydraulic fracturing. Learn more.)
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Walt Desatoff stands in front of a flare in an oil field next to his home.
The flare is so close to Desatoff's property that before the wall was put up around the flare, his house would light up at night from the light and the windows would rattle from the flare's vibrations.
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A sign in an agricultural field in Shafter indicates the growing tension between agricultural and oil industries in California's Central Valley, America's most productive cropland.
Residents like Desatoff are worried about the air pollution coming off those flared wells, and wonder whether the chemicals in the giant fracking wastewater pits will seep into drinking water wells.
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Industry observers are bracing for a large-scale energy surge driven by rising oil prices, the discovery of vast oil shale deposits and an upsurge in extreme extraction methods like horizontal drilling, fracking and a process known as steam extraction.
Shale Data Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration
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An almond farmer watches oil wells that have sprouted near almond orchards in Shafter. Many worry that the new techniques being used to go after the oil, such as horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, could potentially damage groundwater in agricultural areas.
"California is way, way behind other states in addressing the serious environmental and public health threats posed by unconventional energy development," said Earthjustice attorney George Torgun, who is leading a legal battle to bring about the state's first regulations of fracking.
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These almonds were grown mere feet from an oil field. Some farmers in California's Central Valley are also concerned that drilling could put a strain on the state's already over-extended water supply and add to its existing air pollution problem.
During fracking, hundreds of thousands to millions of gallons of water are mixed with toxic chemicals and injected down wells at high pressure, fracturing the underground rock formation to force oil and gas to the surface.
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Fracking has been largely deregulated, with exemptions from key portions of federal laws, including:
The Safe Drinking Water Act
The Clean Air Act
The Clean Water Act
Gless and other residents bought their homes years ago when oil production was nearly non-existent and business and political officials were planning on turning the oil field into one of the largest urban parks in America.
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Gless and Ferrazzi at a park near Gless's home. The Inglewood Oil Field looms in the background. Gless, Ferrazzi and other residents are trying to stop fracking and new drilling techniques in the Inglewood Oil Field that are leading to increased seismic activity in their communities.
Not long ago, everyone, even the oil companies, thought the field had been pumped nearly dry. But then oil and gas companies across America began touting big profits from new and more risky, destructive techniques to extract fossil fuels.
Cheeseboro lives in the Baldwin Village area of Los Angeles and is one of many who are concerned about how the safety and health of the community will be affected by hydraulic fracturing and increased oil drilling in the area.
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A sign hangs by the Inglewood Oil Field in Los Angeles, warning of hazardous fumes. About 300,000 residents live within a three-mile radius of the oil field.
In spite of the risks to nearby residents, Houston-based Plains Exploration and Production Company (PXP) has taken a renewed interest in the oil field, readying plans to drill hundreds of new wells.
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Citizens Coalition for a Safe Environment Executive Director Paul Ferrazzi and President Gary Gless survey the Stocker lease of the Inglewood Oil Field.
The two have been educating, alerting and empowering local citizens working to stop fracking in the Inglewood field, Los Angeles County and California State. The group has participated in the governmental hearings processes, held community meetings and educated thousands about the environmental impacts of drilling in their area.
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The era of "extreme energy" is marked by industry attempts to drill in harsh Arctic Ocean waters for oil, blast off mountaintops for coal in Appalachia, and shoot hundreds of thousands of gallons of chemically treated water into the earth to extract oil and gas.
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Citizens, lobbyists, business people and politicians cram into a meeting room at the state capitol in Sacramento for a hearing about upcoming regulations for hydraulic fracturing in California.
"We've learned in our state-by-state fights that in the face of intense industry pressure, state agencies need to be pushed to do the right thing," said attorney George Torgun.
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As the sun sets on another California day, a flare burns in an oil field in Shafter, CA.
As the oil industry ramps up production in the state through new techniques, many residents are concerned about the health of the people and the nature—and future—of the Golden State.