Oil well gas leak creates new dangers for local residents and visitors to Ballona Wetlands - University City Syndicate​


An increasingly dangerous gas leak from the oil well located in the Fresh Water Marsh, just west of Lincoln Blvd, in the Ballona Wetlands, has been proclaimed by oil and gas experts as a "significant surface hazard." 

University City Syndicate​ is a poorly and improperly abandoned oil well known as Dangerously leaking gases and potential blowout hazards currently exist in the States Land Commission owned catch-basin serving as Playa Vista's flood control. The out-gassing is near the public Fresh Water Marsh foot-path of the catch-basin, located near the intersection of Lincoln Blvd. and Jefferson Blvd. in Ballona Wetlands.

For at least 9 years an increasingly dangerous situation has arisen as the leaking gas volume has dramatically increased at the site.

Expert David Becker desires to avoid the costly drilling of a relief well after a blowout.  Government agencies are seeking who will bear the cost of re-abandonment. Abandonment is the physical process of sealing the well shaft from top to bottom.  Playa Vista was the last operator to bear the abandonment cost, and typically obliged to re-abandon.  However, SoCal Gas owns the mineral rights, so they too maybe required to pay.  The States Land Commission owns the land on behalf of the public.  This area is Public Trust land and water.

The quotes below are from communications between Grassroots Coalition, President Patricia McPherson; David Becker of Global Integrated Development Group; Victor Jones of Exploration Technologies; and the Los Angeles Water Regional Quality Control Board.

  1. Over a longer period, if gas/pressure builds up in the subsurface, the pressure could cause a subsurface blowout,...
  2. now the newest abandonment potentially increased them [leaks].
  3. ... evidenced by the extreme gas flow.
  4. This well may be abandoned, but it is nowhere near permanently, or even currently, plugged.

These excerpts below gives context to the quotes:

Victor Jones of Exploration Technologies Inc. Excerpt

These are now the largest macro seeps on the entire site, and as such they constitute a danger to the area that will never decrease without sealing this well.  The construction of an artificial lake marsh with a bottom liner will also allow a buildup of gas under the liner which could significantly aid lateral migration of the gas towards Lincoln Blvd and the buildings constructed east of Lincoln.

David Becker of Global Integrated Development Group, LLC Excerpt

Note either abandonment could have fractured the formation. The original abandonment could have started, or surely increased, the “original” leaks you measured back when; and now the newest abandonment potentially increased them. Even setting the cement plugs could have the same impact if done incorrectly. In any case, fracturing around the borehole was very likely increased in this last attempt as evidenced by the extreme gas flow. Again, where the gas is actually coming to surface is not significant given the many paths it could take. Flow up the borehole can bring gas to the whole fracture volume in the subsurface, not just at the well head. And again, that 1,850’ depth was very problematic. Also, without the steel plates at the current cement plugs, the cement will degrade, and gas will start leaking back up the inside of the borehole as well. This well may be abandoned, but it is nowhere near permanently, or even currently, plugged.

As the engineers said, if done soon, and done right, the well and the annulus around it could be properly sealed off. Similar situations of unintentionally fracturing up a formation causing problems has occurred in the Gulf of Mexico and other places, so solutions are well known. Over a longer period, if gas/pressure builds up in the subsurface, the pressure could cause a subsurface blowout, presumably around 1,850’, that the engineers alluded to above. Obviously, but I just want to say, this could be a significant surface hazard as well. In the event of a subsurface blowout, that is when a separate relief well would be needed to get the subsurface under control again. At that point, both the relief well and the original well would have to be properly abandoned. A need for this action is way more costly obviously than correctly abandoning the well now, not even considering any collateral surface damage.

We can advise on various levels as needed.


The e-mails below were sent to multiple organizations for support of garnering accountability and transparency regarding what oil/gas experts have described as potentially very dangerous conditions that exist to what they believe is a poorly and improperly abandoned oil well known as University City Syndicate.  This well is located within Public Trust lands/waters of Ballona Wetlands.

The second e-mail, with attachments, was sent to elected, agencies, LA City Departments and attorneys regarding the conditions of this leaking well and its potentially hazardous ramifications and its need of proper reabandonment to disarm its threat to both Ballona Wetlands and Playa Vista - a large development project across the street (Lincoln Blvd.) from this leaking well.



Good Morning Everyone,

Re: Leaking abandoned well --University City Syndicate-- in Ballona Wetlands-Public Trust Land/Water

Grassroots Coalition is seeking support from other organizations to garner public participation and transparency for the current situation of a dangerously leaking well in Ballona Wetlands in PUBLIC TRUST LAND stewarded by the California State Lands Commission.  The Public Trust land/water has been managed by the private interests of Playa Vista-- a commercial/residential buildout that relies upon the catch basin to continue buildout of the property as the catch basin is its flood control element . Playa Vista is the last assigned operator of the failed re-abandonment of University City Syndicate. The City of Los Angeles paid Playa Vista back for the financing of the reabandonment.

The well is also within the mineral rights of SOCALGAS/Playa del Rey and its Underground Gas Storage Operations.

Currently, Grassroots Coalition has a Cal EPA ongoing investigation into this well's apparent failure that is being reviewed by the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board (LARWQCB)-- Adam Taing,  who has acknowledged a multi entity meeting over how to deal with this well.

However, we, the public have no information on this meeting and are not being kept in the loop for what is going on with this leaking well in Public Trust land/water of Ballona Wetlands.

We'd like to align organizations in reaching out to be provided with updates on this well just as the public was provided with updates and information on the well blow out (RGC 10) in Marina del Rey---at the very least.  RGC 10 is on leased public lands; University City Syndicate is in the Public Trust land/water of Ballona Wetlands--acquired with $140 million of public bonds.  We, the public are stakeholders and should be at the table for oversight of this well.

Please let me know if your organization would align with us to ask for inclusion into this ongoing process which should include full transparency on this Public Trust impacted area.

Please let me know,

Patricia McPherson, Grassroots Coalition

P.S. The Sierra Club Airport Marina Group has come on board in support of this request.

On Fri, Oct 18, 2019 at 2:19 PM <PATRICIA MCPHERSON wrote:

Hello All,

Please be advised per the comments below from Dr. C.T. Williams regarding the poorly abandoned well known as University City Syndicate, located  in Ballona Wetlands -within Public Trust land/water known as the Freshwater Marsh System--aka Catch Basin stewarded by the State Lands Commission but controlled, at present, by Playa Vista's Ballona Wetlands Conservancy.  This flood control system is under the Coastal Development Permit, 5-91-463, of the California Coastal Commission .  Per this CDP- multiple agencies have direct oversight including the LARWQCB, the CCC, USACE (whose permit for this system is part of the CDP 5-91-463). (But for this flood control system, Playa Vista would not be permitted to build east of Lincoln Blvd.  It would appear that the failure to properly maintain this well demonstrates another problem with having Public Trust Land under the control of a private developer entity--namely Playa Vista. )

The video of DOGGR PERSONNEL garnering the location of University City Syndicate is attached above.  Current leakage can be seen in the attached video of STONEBIRD documentation of Jonathan Coffin.  https://www.flickr.com/gp/stonebird/2h5k6L
There is currently an ongoing CAL EPA COMPLAINT lodged by Grassroots Coalition regarding this well hence LARWQCB has been engaged via the Complaint.  LARWQCB is also engaged as an oversight agency of the CDP and per its authority to maintain water quality and environmental habitat integrity. The City of Los Angeles and its oversight of oil/gas issues within the City of LA is also likely a jurisdictional agent and paid for the last abandonment of UCS performed by Playa Vista (contractors).  New oil and gas regulations are potentially address the current conditions of outgassing via this well as cited below by Dr. Williams.
The failure of this well's ability to seal out oilfield gases and maintain a seal to both the surface waters, the underlying aquifers and the atmosphere is also presented by Exploration Technologies Inc. and David Becker-Global Integrated Development Group, LLC and colleagues.  Both ETI and David Becker have been in direct communication with Grassroots Coalition and LARWQCB on this matter and have both raised red-flag warnings of the critical need to re abandon the well properly.  They have expressed concern regarding inherent and ongoing dangers to the immediate area as well as concerns regarding gas migration from this well into the Playa Vista development area.
Grassroots Coalition respectfully submits the following comments by Dr. C.T. Williams that were generated by him some time during the 2010-11 timeframe.  They are resubmitted at this time. Grassroots Coalition also requests public participation to be included in any and all investigation of this well and its reabandonment.  Due to the red-flag warnings of potential harm from this well's current condition,  we request notification be made to the public to allow for informed decision making on their part.
Please regard this as an alert by Grassroots Coalition and please help to keep us, the public---informed.


Patricia McPherson, Grassroots Coalition

YouTube - Playa Vista Gas Sampling 019.m4v 


-----Original Message-----
From: Tom Williams
To: patriciamcpherson
Sent: Fri, Oct 18, 2019 1:07 pm
Subject: Re: University City Syn. Dr. Tom Williams
TO:        Patricia McPherson
FROM:    Dr. C.T. Williams
Subject: Gas Emissions from Ballona Wetlands and Vicinity
RE:        Emissions from Constructed Wetlands, West of Lincoln/South of Jefferson
I have visited the Ballona Wetlands Site in 2009-2010 and have viewed at least five sites of “Bubbling Gases” east and west of Lincoln which have continued to persistently “bubble” for more than 90 days.  I participated in the ground gas monitoring by Engineering Science along the Wilshire and Fairfax corridors of and for the RTD/MTA Metro Rail Red Line during the mid 1980s, was the Environmental Supervisor for RTD-Red Line Phase 1 Construction Management, and conducted various other gas-related projects in the vicinity of the Salt Lake Field (including Wilshire Courtyard) for Parsons Corporation and Engineering Science. I was designated as team leader for the LAFD at the explosion/fire incident at Ross-Dress-for-Less Store (near 3rd and Fairfax/Farmers Market) for gas drilling and extinguishing the fire and gas sources, which was done by venting at >20psi.  I also consulted with the LAFD and City of Los Angeles for the Gilmore Bank gas event in 1986 across Third from the Ross Store site.   During 2000-01, I was employed through MHA Consultants for the CPUC review of environmental and other consequences from divesture of Los Angeles Region gas storage facilities owned by the Southern California Gas Co., including the Montebello and Playa del Rey Gas Storage Facilities.  These and other related studies led to the decommissioning of the Montebello Field and considerable changes for the Playa del Rey Field.
I have reviewed and visited various gas emission sites in the Playa Vista/Playa del Rey area and offer the comments below.  Review of site inspections and available documents and recordings are summarized below:
Visual-comments “Bubbles”
Continuous persistent emissions to the same surface locations
Large diameters of bubble just below surface of >5ft in free standing water
Captured bubbles suggest gas pressures of >0.5psig (>12 inches/1ft water pressure)
Review of GeoScience’s Report and Tables
Little or No detectible CO2 and H2S
Detectible Helium, Ethane, Propane, and Toulene levels
C14 age of >55,000 years before present
Flow rates and pressures
Influential Terminology
“Seepage Gas” discrimination, parameters, and criteria
Thermogenic and Biogenic Gases discrimination, parameters, and criteria
Marine/Non-Marine Biogenic Sources/Conditions discrimination, parameters, and criteria
Gas Modifications During Migration            5ft        2psi        50ft         20psi
All well depths, feet below surface          500ft    200psi   >5000ft     2000+psi
Important issues from documents
Two 1930s blow-outs during drilling – 1-above 1821ft, oil&gas at 1140-50ft; 2-above 5960ft
Original well was incompletely and inadequately abandoned
Could not be cleared/cleaned out below 155ft
Indeterminate amount of casing, drill stems, and fishing gear left in hole
Cement with 32 bags un-rated strength
No verification of use of 72# Drilling Mud especially after drilling difficulties
Re-abandonment found “dehydrated” drilling mud
Playa Vista Re-abandonment
Seven cement plugs of less than 20% of bore, total length >800/<1000ft / <6000ft
“Clay based drilling mud” of unspecified weight and character
Experienced at least one “kick” (gas release, not oil spill)
Experienced gas release at well surface (successfully stopped with surface seal)
“Bubbles” are clear indicators of large gas volumes being released that if produced by a microbial source- as indicated in the GeoScience Analytical report-  would have required a large body of ancient gas-producing organic materials---such a source has which have not been found in all available borings and explorations in the area. The large persistent bubbles, observed in the marsh, also indicate a large pressure sources rather than in contrast to sporadic bubbling which would be more common in “biogenic” sources and large organic materials.  These large bubbles form at depths of >5ft and thereby reflect a higher pressure regime near the sources of much higher pressures than would be expected from a “shallow source”. Locational persistence would also indicate a clear, trackable pathway to a large body of gas-producing materials.
Gas formation from biogenic and thermogenic sources are well understood, but the modifications of produced gas through/along various natural media/pathways is a far more complicated process and requires some rational explanation, rather than deriving fanciful complicated production systems.  The little or no detectible CO2 and H2S indicate a relatively clean source of gas as- in contrast- most gases from land fill, peat bogs, and other relatively recent and older sources contain detectible percentages of CO2 and H2S.
 As in the Ross Store explosion, the gas emissions and flames had no odor, no color, and no smoke (indicating associated gases).  Similarly most in place associated gas formation in SoCal has generated moderate to high levels of Sulfur (as a percentage for sour-gas, H2S).
Biogenic gases do not contain- as identified in the isotopic analysis of the bubbling deep seepage area-  detectible levels of Ethane, Propane, and Toulene; however thermogenic associated gases may contain all and more. SoCal terrestrial, freshwater, and marine biogenic and thermogenic gases do not contain recorded cases of Detectible Helium, although methane coming from the Texas/Oklahoma/Kansas High Plains gas fields commonly have detectible levels and were used for helium production for WWII.*
*SOCALGAS’ gas storage operations within the Playa del Rey oilfield has historically stored piped in gas from Texas/Oklahoma and the Kansas High Plains thus, helium has been utilized as a marker for identifying migrating or leaking SOCALGAS’ storage gas.
The C14 age of >55,000 years before present – identified in the GeoScience Analytical report as the age of the bubbling gases- does not means much, other than the gases are not formed from the muck on the bottom of the lagoon, which is a reconstructed wetland and relevant organic materials were not imported for the back filling.  >55,000 years is the highest reliable date range that C14 can be used for dating and thereby gases.
“Seepage Gas” does not mean anything other than the method of occurrence (= “bubbling gas”; better to use “The Gas”) but appears to be used to avoid any indication of its origin, e.g., biogenic, or thermogenic. No parameters, criteria, or references are provided for the definition of “Seepage Gas” and thereby any such further reference should be eliminated.
As in the Gulf of Mexico’s Deepwater Horizon releases, few know what happens to gases and associated “liquids” when released from a contained producing/storage zone into more permeable and less pressurized formation, pathways, or other environments.  Gas/oil mixtures are assumed to fractionate much as in a refinery distillation tower with lights gases/liquids moving differently from heavier gases/liquids.  With formation pressures of 200-3000psi, considerable changes, usually deletions of reactive and heavier compounds, could be assumed to happen to migrating gas on its way up through formations and differing waters of >55,000 years old (50-8000+ft depth).
DOGGR, SoCalGas and others have not offered evidence, of any nature, which would remove the SoCalGas storage zone gases or higher associated field gases as prospective sources of gases reaching the surface.  Since SoCalGas has a the source most consistent with the currently available information, they should be considered, until proven by contrary facts, as to be responsible for the source of the gases (with helium and heavier hydrocarbons).
Other related field documents also raised issues related to the migratory pathway for the gases reaching the surface near Lincoln and Jefferson.  During the drilling of the University-Syndicate well, two 1930s blow-outs occurred:  1-above 1821ft and 2-above 5960ft; in addition a non-commercial oil and gas zone was encountered at 1140-50ft and could be associated with the #1 blow-out.  Records for the well showed that the original well was not developed for production and was incompletely and inadequately abandoned (with 32 bags un-rated strength cement for more than 5000ft of boring) and could not be cleared/cleaned out below 155ft below the surface.  Although reference is made to “drilling mud”, no verification of amount or gravity of the “72# Drilling Mud” was provided (re-abandonment found “dehydrated” drilling mud and did not contain the well). 
Subsequent Playa Vista Re-abandonment of the subject well confirmed the lack of abandonment and documented placement of seven (7) cement plugs of less than 20% of bore (total plug length >800/<1000ft / <6000ft well total) with the remaining bore filled with “Clay based drilling mud” of unspecified weight and character.  As during the original drilling, the re-abandonment experienced at least one “kick” (gas release, not oil spill) and then experienced gas release at the well cap surface which, reportedly, was successfully stopped with a surface seal.  No explanation was provided for the surface gas “bubbles” (=”seepage gas”) for the surface casing above 800+ft of cement plugs in place.
Based on the above, the simplest explanation based on the currently available information is that the largest source of the gas in the area is in fact the SoCalGas Playa Del Rey Gas Storage Facility based on the field characteristics of the surface gases and the available gas composition and trace gases known or expected to be in the stored gases.
Changes of some gas characteristics could reflect the migration of gases to the surface through various formational and groundwater conditions from gas-containing formation which were not produced from, but not the generation or additions of helium in the State of California formations.
I highly recommend that the relevant agencies and organizations review all available information, re-assess the locations and compositions of surface gases, and provide exploration of the subsurface geotechnical, groundwater, and gas probe with appropriate inplace monitoring systems of >2000ft depth in the vicinity of the most prominent gas releases.  Following review of additional information from such, a focused action plan with probable re-abandonment of wells in the vicinity may be required.  Consideration should be given for the potential future development of CO2 sequestration in the area and,  how these additional considerations could be integrated with programs and funding for CO2 health and safety assessments.
Unconsolidated alluvium (Holocene/Latest Quaternary)
Recent Alluvium                        Include deposits that are known locally as “50-Foot Gravel”1
Older Dune Sand
Consolidated alluvium (Pleistocene/Quaternary)
Lakewood Formation                                                                                         100-ft thick
San Pedro Formation                                                    Sands with lenses
Pico Formation              Marine sandstone, siltstone, and shale, interbedded with
marine gravels (DWR, 1961)      400 to 500 ft
Repetto Formation                     Siltstone and shale with layers of sandstone/conglomerate          3,000 ft
Sandstone beds – upper/middle Repetto Formation –
upper oil producing zone
Puente Formation Shale            Devoid of major sand-bearing units.                                 over 5,000 ft
Topanga Formation –    SS Cg weathered material of Catalina Schist                  6,000 ft
Schist conglomerate –
PDR oil field primary reservoir + depleted gas storage zone.
Santa Monica Schist or Catalina Schist Basement rock >6,000 feet

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