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Is Baldwin Hills fracking up?

Merdis Hayes | 7/18/2012, 5 p.m.

Fracking. It is a non-euphonius term that rhymes with cracking and whose sound connotes all kinds of unpleasant thoughts. But to certain residents of the Los Angeles area it is much more than just a unpleasant sound; it's an oil-company practice that many in the nation and around the world consider both highly destructive and life-threatening, so much so that the Los Angeles City Council has passed a resolution against it, Culver City has called for a statewide ban against it, and at least one Assembly bill has been proposed limiting the practice. But it continues.

The controversial method of oil fracking--the proper name is hydraulic fracturing--is generating alarm among households in some of the richest portions of Black Los Angeles--Baldwin Hills, Windsor Hills and View Park--as well as in Culver City.

Areas of immense concern range from fear of water contamination and air pollution to property damage and an increased chance of earthquakes.

What may have begun as a Republican political rallying cry for more oil drilling a few years ago has resulted in very real quality-of-life distress for about 12,000 area residents.

Spanning about two square miles, the Baldwin Hills portion of the historic Inglewood Oil Field--the third largest in America--is itself one of the nation's largest contiguous urban oil fields. It stretches from La Cienega Boulevard on the east to the Culver City border on the west, to Slauson Avenue on the south and Stocker Avenue on the north.

The area, including nearby Ladera Heights, makes up one of the nation's most prominent upper-middle-class African American communities. Since African Americans began moving into the area during the 1960s after the restrictive housing covenants were broken, it has been home to such celebrities as Ray Charles, Nancy Wilson, Tina Turner, actresses Regina King and Viola Davis, Mayor Tom Bradley, and actress/dancer Debbie Allen and her husband, former basketball great Norm Nixon, and a number of today's Black entertainers.

Besides its near-sublime views of the Los Angeles basin, the quiet, meandering streets are just minutes from downtown and major freeways; and to the Black professional class, its shady trees and secluded landscape for decades have served as a communal refuge from busy city life below.

Fracking has taken place worldwide for many years, but with the pressing need to tap new sources of oil and natural gas, the petroleum industry has developed advanced--and uncertified--methods of coaxing more oil and gas from the ground that opponents of the procedure and watchdog groups nationwide have vehemently rejected.

A history of the precarious typography of Baldwin Hills keeps residents naturally on edge. In December 1963, the Baldwin Hills reservoir collapsed, sending thousands of gallons of water sweeping toward Jefferson and La Cienega boulevards. Within 77 minutes, five people were killed and 65 homes were ripped from their foundations and washed downhill. It was revealed that over-exploration of the oil field had caused a pencil-thin crack along the face of the reservoir.

One year ago an agreement between the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and Plains Exploration and Production Co. (PXP), the oil company, was reached to resolve four lawsuits by the Community Health Councils Inc., the Natural Resources Defense Council, the city of Culver City, Concerned Citizens of South Central Los Angeles and the Citizen's Coalition for a Safe community.