Los Angeles Business Journal

L.A. Council Orders Fracking Moratorium Ordinance

By Howard Fine Friday, February 28, 2014

The Los Angeles City Council on Friday voted overwhelmingly to ban fracking at oil and gas wells in the city until it could be shown the activity would not harm the environment or public health. The vote makes Los Angeles the largest city in the nation to impose a moratorium on the controversial drilling practice.

The Council voted 10-0 to instruct City Attorney Mike Feuer to draft an ordinance changing the city’s zoning code to prohibit oil and gas well stimulation activities, including hydraulic fracturing, acid injection and gravel packing. The motion put forward by Councilmembers Mike Bonin and Paul Koretz bans these practices until they can be proven safe; if they cannot be proven safe, the ban would remain permanent.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is the practice of injecting water, sand and trace chemicals to loosen oil deposits deep beneath the earth that would otherwise not be recoverable. It has been a crucial component of the recent surge in oil and gas production in the country. Critics contend it can lead to groundwater contamination, release gases into the atmosphere and even cause small earthquakes.

“(These) practices threaten to contaminate drinking water supplies, cost taxpayers in Los Angeles hundreds of millions of dollars, release potent and dangerous greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and cause earthquakes,” the councilmembers wrote in their motion.

After the vote, Bonin added, “We cannot continue to allow the safety of our neighborhoods to be jeopardized by dangerous drilling.”

Oil producers reacted strongly to the council vote, saying a ban on fracking and other controversial oil production techniques could chase away all production from the city. They also said the move could deprive thousands of property owners in the city of previously contracted royalties.

“If adopted, this will lead to the elimination of virtually all drilling activity in the city,” said Rock Zierman, chief executive of the California Independent Petroleum Association in Sacramento, which represents small- and mid-sized oil and gas producers. “This isn’t just a ban on hydraulic fracturing; it also prohibits re-injection of water, which is standard practice at just about every well.”

Zierman said his organization wants to meet with city officials to alert them to the consequences of a ban. “This motion was poorly conceived and its implications not understood,” he said.

Zierman also warned that if the prohibitions remain in the ordinance ultimately adopted by the council, the industry could file legal action. He said the ordinance would be considered an unconstitutional taking of previously contracted mineral rights for local property owners.