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Neighborhood fights drilling near home

Aerial view of housing development.

TEXT OF STORY

Bill Radke: One topic sure to come up in tonight's debate --
energy policy. There has been a political push lately to drill for oil domestically. The U.S. still has an estimated 21 billion barrels waiting to be extracted. At an oil field in Los Angeles, residents are fighting one company's plan to drill under their neighborhood. Jennifer Collins has the story.


Jennifer Collins: Gary Gless owns a home in western Los Angeles. He's got a million dollar view, with a terraced garden and a koi pond out back. It was his little piece of serenity. But then, just a few blocks away, an oil company started looking for more crude on a thousand-acre field.

Gary Gless: You just saw the rigs going up overnight, and drilling and drilling and drilling.

The company behind the drilling is Houston- based PXP. Some residents claim gasses released from the wells have been giving them headaches. People also complain that vibrations rattle the ground. And many say stress cracks have been developing in their homes. So Gless has been knocking on doors, cataloguing the complaints.

Gless: This is the one where they had the whole house redone because the back half of it fell off. The neighbor here, you can see, the roof is all collapsing.

That neighbor is George Doty. His is one of about 2,500 homes that surround the field. Wells have been on the site since the 1920's, and PXP has the mineral rights. Now, they're opening up old wells.

George Doty: I don't care if they drill, that's their business if they want to out there. But I don't want them moving my house when they drill.

Doty's owned his place for 61 years. He's never had problems with his home. But two years ago, he noticed his house seemed to be sliding away from the attached garage. Doty blames the drilling, but PXP says it doesn't believe it's responsible.

Russ Fricano is an urban planner who studies the impact of the drilling for Los Angeles county:

Russ Fricano: There has been a slight uplift in the ground.

Collins: Could that be causing the problems in their houses?

Fricano: I can't respond to that.

PXP has stopped drilling new wells while the county looks at new regulations. A county report found the company could do a better job burning off gasses released during the drilling. To do that, the report recommends PXP purchase a new flaring device.

Fricano: The flare at the oil field site is a little old, outdated. And if the gas isn't released properly through it, it may generate some ground shaking.

Fricano says a new flare may stop the vibrations. But many of the residents are doubtful.

Proposed regulations could allow PXP to put in more than a thousand new wells over the next 20 years. The homeowners have vowed to sue, but if the new rules go through, PXP may resume drilling as early as next year.

I'm Jennifer Collins for Marketplace.

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