Environment

LA City Council places moratorium on hydraulic fracturing

Ordinance will stop all fracking within city limits and is meant to send a message to state government to follow suit

Fracking has become more controversial as it has spread across the United States
Rich Pedroncelli/AP

Los Angeles on Friday moved one step closer to becoming the largest municipality in the United States to approve a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing (also known as fracking).

The City Council members present at the session voted unanimously in favor of the motion, which will now go to the city attorney who will craft an ordinance that bans fracking and other “well stimulation” practices in Los Angeles County, until the city deems that the practices can be done safely.

Los Angeles isn’t an especially active region for fracking — a process in which thousands of gallons of water mixed with chemicals are forced deep into wells in order to break up gas- and oil-rich deposits. But oil drilling does take place within the city’s limits, and activists say that fracking is on the rise there.

Supporters of the bill say it will not only have an immediate impact in areas where drilling is taking place, but will send a message to Gov. Jerry Brown, who has so far kept fracking largely unregulated in the state. A similar bill currently making its way through California’s Senate would also place a moratorium on fracking.

“It gives a clear indication to Gov. Brown that citizens are in favor of a moratorium,” said Dan Jacobson, the legislative director of Environment California. “It shows when he doesn’t act, localities will. I think you’ll see more cities and towns across the state adopting things like this.”

California’s patchwork system of oil and gas monitoring means it’s nearly impossible to know how much fracking is taking place in Los Angeles. But activists are convinced at least a few wells have been processed for fracking, and they fear that the city’s thousands of defunct oil wells could be reopened with the hydraulic technique.  

“There is fracking, and it’s increasing,” said David Graham-Caso, the director of environmental policy for Council Member Mike Bonin, one of the sponsors of the ordinance. “The moratorium is to say let's stop this before it happens at an alarming rate.”

Acidizing — stimulating an oil well using acid — appears to be taking place within city limits as well. That process would be stopped under the City Council’s proposed ordinance as well.

It’s not clear when the moratorium would take effect, but supporters of the measure hope it has immediate repercussions beyond Los Angeles.

L.A. joins a growing list of towns, cities and counties that have either banned or placed moratoriums on fracking.

Denton, Tx., recently began an effort to ban the practice outright, and Dallas has an ordinance that effectively bans fracking within city limits. Dozens of towns in New York, Colorado and other states where wells are becoming increasingly common have also come out against the practice.

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