Petroleum Trade Association Sues Compton over Fracking Moratorium

Friday, July 25, 2014
(photo: Mike Groll, Associated Press)

Although Beverly Hills got a lot of media recognition in April for passing the first municipal ban on fracking in California, Compton’s indefinite moratorium passed around the same time accomplished the same thing.

But Compton has the distinction of being the first to get sued over it.

The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) filed a complaint this week in Los Angeles County Superior Court against Compton, claiming that statewide fracking legislation passed last September in Sacramento pre-empted moratoriums and bans by municipalities, according to Courthouse News Service.

Like Beverly Hills, Compton does not have any fracked oil wells. But the suit says the city violated the California Constitution when it banned well stimulation in other municipalities if the well’s bottom sat beneath Compton. The suit argues that the state bars cities from passing laws that regulate activities on the surface of other municipalities.

The plaintiff also complained that the city failed to give adequate notice of the ordinance and its effect on mineral rights in violation of state and federal due process guarantees.

Well stimulation reaches otherwise inaccessible oil and gas by blasting high-pressure water―with often-unknown chemicals (sometimes acid) and other materials―into the ground to create fractures in rock.

The Compton City Council adopted the ordinance (pdf) on April 22 because, as it says in the introduction:

“Well stimulation treatments, including hydraulic fracturing and acidizing, when used in conjunction with the production or extraction of oil, gas or other hydrocarbon substances, may pose a significant risk to the public health, safety, and welfare. Such activities may increase the potential for seismic activity, contribute to air pollution, and contaminate groundwater resources.”

That is a concise summary of arguments critics of the extraction techniques have made with increasing urgency as new technology has transformed and popularized decades-old drilling methods among oil and gas companies.

The industry denies all of that. The WSPA calls fracking “safe and effective” on its website and says: “Hydraulic fracturing has never been shown to adversely impact the state’s environment, drinking water supply or pose any risk to nearby residents. In fact, to date there has not been a documented case of fluids used in fracturing operations entering a drinking water aquifer.”  

State lawmakers have failed to pass a fracking moratorium on more than one occasion, the latest rejection coming in May. Legislators also rejected a moratorium when they approved the state’s first fracking regulations last year. Critics said it would take years for Senate Bill 4 to be fully implemented and a moratorium was needed while the dangers of fracking were properly assessed.

The Center for Biological Diversity has attempted to keep track of local anti-fracking efforts scattered around the state. It lists (pdf) 20 cities, counties and communities that have passed resolutions urging the state to stop fracking, but only Compton, Beverly Hills and Santa Cruz County have done more. A handful, including Los Angeles, have voted to draft an ordinance or put the issue on a ballot for voters to decide.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Drillers Sue Compton for Right to Frack (by Matt Reynolds , Courthouse News Service)

Petroleum Trade Group Challenges Ban on Fracking in Southern California City (Bloomberg)

Beverly Hills Becomes First City in California to Impose a Ban on Fracking (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

Western States Petroleum Assoc. vs. City of Compton et al (Los Angeles County Superior Court)

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