News and analysis about energy in California with an eye toward renewables.

L.A. Takes Big Step Toward Fracking Moratorium

The large crowd at today's meeting gave a joyous reaction after the L.A. City Council unanimously moved the fracking proposal forward. | Photo: Courtesy Kent Minault

The Los Angeles City Council today took the first step toward putting a stop to hydraulic fracturing and other similar drilling methods that energy companies use to extract petroleum and natural gas.

The council voted 10-0 to direct the city attorney to write an ordinance that would impose a moratorium on such activity at oil wells and fields within the city.

Council members say "unconventional" drilling practices -- often referred to as fracking, acidization, and gravel-packing -- endanger the city's water supply and increase the risk of earthquakes.

Some oil production companies operating within the city employ acidization, which uses corrosive chemicals to dissolve rock formations around oil deposits, according to city officials.

If Los Angeles's moratorium ordinance is approved, it would stay in effect until oil companies can assure that the city's water supply is safe, that the practice does not otherwise harm the environment and the companies are fully disclosing the chemicals used, according to the motion by councilmen Paul Koretz and Mike Bonin.

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The lifting of the moratorium also would hinge on whether state and federal laws are enacted to protect the public from any negative effects of the drilling activity.

The best known form of fracking is hydraulic fracturing, which involves injecting a pressurized water and chemical mixture into rock formations to create cracks that release natural gas or oil.

Oil companies are drilling deeper, injecting larger amounts of water and using additional or harsher chemicals in these newer, "extreme" techniques, said Brenna Norton of the Food & Water Watch, one of the environmental organizations that pushed for the moratorium.

Koretz said they are aiming to bring an ordinance back to the council floor in about two months.

City attorneys, working with the planning department, will take a look at ways to enforce the moratorium using the city's land use and zoning regulations, a Bonin aide said.

Bonin said a practice that involves "fracturing the earth" should not take place in an area prone to earthquakes.

"This is a technology that is experimental, that is wildly unregulated in the state," he said. "It is essential for us to say no to this in our neighborhoods and protect people who live work and play in the city of Los Angeles."

Restricting fracking "makes so much sense" that even Dallas -- a city known for having an oil-based economy -- has passed laws regulating it, Koretz said.

Hance V. Myers III, a vice president at Freeport-McMoRan Oil & Gas, a company with drilling operations in Los Angeles, said in a statement that the moratorium's "generic scope" could halt "even routine well maintenance activities needed to ensure the mechanical integrity of wells and maintain conventional oil production.

"Those consequences could go far beyond the resolution's stated intent and adversely impact thousands of jobs, substantial city revenue streams and tens of thousands of fixed-income royalty recipients," Myers said.

A representative of the oil industry at a committee hearing this week disputed claims that fracking is harmful.

Nick Ortiz of the Western States Petroleum Association said fracking has been "in use for over 60 years and has never been associated with any confirmed case of groundwater contamination or any other environmental harm."


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