While California state officials are mulling new regulations related to oil and natural gas drilling, including hydraulic fracturing (fracking), a Stanford-connected engineering researcher/consultant has completed an updated analysis on some earlier work cautioning that fracking can induce seismic activity in geologically active areas, such as some of California’s old producing fields.

At issue is the work of the producer Plains Exploration and Production Co. (PXP) to try to make increased drilling activity in a mostly residential area work within an urban center of Los Angeles County, the Inglewood Oilfield in the hills between Hollywood to the north and Los Angeles International Airport to the south (see Shale Daily, June 26, 2012).

As part of a 2011 settlement, PXP had a third-party study completed that concluded fracking in the urban-based oilfield presented no environmental or water quality problems (see Shale Daily, Oct. 12, 2012), but concerns have lingered among some regional water and air regulators, as well as local residents.

More recent work by Richard Meehan, an adjunct civil engineering professor at Stanford, related to geologic engineering work he had done more than 40 years ago on the same urban oilfield. Meehan attempts to raise more questions about the prudence of drilling and fracking in an area pockmarked with earthquake faults.

Meehan told NGI’s Shale Daily Wednesday that it is “unquestionable” that fracking “has great potential” for tapping shale gas in various areas around the United States, but “it has its downsides in terms of safety.” In addition, fracking can be problematic in certain geologic areas, such as present themselves in seismically active California.

Meehan said he has found that activities in the Inglewood oilfield have resulted in reactivation of geologic faulting, affecting residential property and two elementary schools. He has not published a report on his findings but instead launched a new video on YouTube in which he presents what he called evidence for ongoing oilfield causation of surface and property damage that refutes conclusions in the recently completed study by PXP’s consultant, Cardno ENTRIX.

“It also demonstrates that hydraulic fracturing for hydrocarbon recovery can be hazardous in relatively shallow geologic environments with faults and earthquakes as commonly found as in California,” said a spokesperson for the Northern California-based engineering consultant, who added the caveat that safety questions about fracking outside of California do not apply.

Meehan claims that the uniqueness of California when it comes to fracking was established back in 1957 by a Houston-based Shell Oil research laboratory geoscientist named M. King Hubbert.

In 1963, Hubbert’s studies when pressurized waterflooding of the Inglewood oil field in Los Angeles led to perhaps the greatest disaster to strike that state in 75 years, the failure of Baldwin Hills reservoir. Meehan and a geologist colleague, Douglas Hamilton, spent a decade or more studying the reservoir failure’s causes.

The reservoir failure was attributed by the pair to the nearby oil drilling activity at the time in the Inglewood oilfield, and Meehan has extrapolated some of that earlier work into his assessment last year of ground movement more recently in homes and schools in the area.

Meehan ends his video with a promise to challenge other claims made by PXP based on last year’s study. In that assessment, the Houston-based exploration/production company said categorically that fracking for oil in Los Angeles County poses “no threat to the environment and doesn’t add to the risk of earthquakes.”

In the meantime, the state legislature, state Department of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (see Shale Daily, Dec. 21, 2012), South Coast Air Quality Management District and the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Board are each looking at different pieces of the puzzle related to PXP’s proposed increased drilling at the old Inglewood field.