Environmental hazards posed by the Los Angeles Basin urban oilfields: an historical perspective of lessons learned


Urban encroachment into areas historically reserved for oil and gas field operations is an ever-present problem within the Los Angeles Basin. The recent frenzy in real estate development has only intensified what can be characterized as a conflict in land usage. Subsurface mineral rights are severed from surface ownership, often resulting in developments being approved without adequate consideration of the underlying oil and gas field consequences. Also, surface operations are frequently co-located within residential areas without consideration of the health and safety consequences of emissions of toxics to air. This paper presents a review of the environmental, health and safety hazards posed by urban oilfield operations, with an emphasis upon the lessons learned from the “L.A. Basin: Original Urban Oilfield Legend” (see Castle and Yerkes 1976; Denton and others 2001; Endres and others 2002; Kouznetsov and others 1994; Katz and others 1994; Schumacher and Abrams 1994; and Schoell 1983). The Los Angeles Basin has provided the authors with one of the largest natural laboratories in the world for studying the consequences of these issues. The results presented are part of a long-term research program based upon the application of geoscience and petroleum engineering principles in obtaining a fundamental understanding of the root causes of the environmental hazards posed. Topics addressed include: (1) vertical migration of gas to the surface along faults and improperly completed or abandoned wellbores (e.g., due to poor cementing practices), (2) subsidence caused by the fluid production and declining reservoir pressures, (3) soil and groundwater contamination resulting from historic oil and gas field operations, and (4) air toxics resulting from surface operations. A number of case histories are discussed that illustrate the seriousness of the problem. A clear case is made for the urgent need for closer coordination and education by the petroleum industry of the local government planning departments. These departments have the principal role in determining land use policies, acting as the lead agency in performing environmental site assessments (e.g., under the California Environmental Quality Act), and in establishing mitigation measures for dealing with the long-term environmental hazards. This paper establishes prudent practices on the part of oilfield operators for the monitoring and mitigation of these hazards.

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Chilingar, G.V., Endres, B. Environmental hazards posed by the Los Angeles Basin urban oilfields: an historical perspective of lessons learned. Env Geol 47, 302–317 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00254-004-1159-0

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  • Los Angeles oilfields
  • Gas migration
  • Toxic gases (hazard)
  • Subsidence-earthquakes
  • Methane