L.A. City Planners Reject Council Request for Fracking Ordinance

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Eight months ago, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously directed its Department of City Planning to develop an ordinance to prohibit oil and gas well stimulation techniques, such as hydraulic fracturing (fracking), within city limits.

Last week, the planners said they couldn’t do it (pdf).

Instead, they recommended that the city pursue “new land use and zoning regulations with the assistance of an outside technical expert” because no one on staff had the necessary expertise in petroleum and natural gas engineering or geology. But that wasn’t the only stumbling block.

The report to the council detailing why the requested ordinance would not be forthcoming noted that the City of Compton passed such an ordinance and got sued by the Western States Petroleum Association. Although the lawsuit is unlikely to be settled soon, the report said, Compton rescinded its moratorium in September.

The oil and gas industry insists that local governments do not have the legal authority to regulate or prohibit well stimulation. State lawmakers have rejected legislation for a moratorium on fracking et al until the dangers are better understood. They did pass the state’s first fracking regulations last year that provide a modicum of oversight but not nearly enough to satisfy critics.

Fracking injects thousands of gallons of pressurized water, sand and toxic chemicals into the ground to crack open wells and then deposits much of that liquid in injection wells. Acidization shoots large amounts of hydrochloric or hydrofluoric acid into them to dissolve rock formations and allow easier access to gas and oil. Fracking has been linked to groundwater contamination, air pollution, releases of methane gas, micro-earthquakes and sinkholes.    

In case the threat of a lawsuit and lack of expertise weren’t sufficient enough reason for abandoning pursuit of a local fracking ban, the report listed nine “challenges and issues.” First on the list: “There is no comprehensive way in which to track all oil and gas activity, permits, and their subsequent conditions of approval.”

The planners recommended the city council redirect its efforts to funding the hire of technical experts for their department and begin reworking a host of related land use and zoning ordinances that effect oil and gas drilling in the city. Once they get all that done, “the City will be better positioned to address the direct and indirect impacts of well stimulation both in the short and long term.”

Voters in the counties of San Benito and Mendocino passed anti-fracking measures on November 4, but rejected one in Santa Barbara County after oil companies outspent supporters of the ban 20-1.  

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:  

Is L.A. Backtracking on Its Fracking Ban? (by Dennis Romero, LA Weekly)

Los Angeles Could Pursue Zoning Rules Instead of Drilling Moratorium (by Richard Nemec, NGI’s Shale Daily)

Hydraulic Fracturing / Fracking / Prohibition of Well Stimulation Activities (Los Angeles City Clerk)

Letter to the Los Angeles City Council (Los Angeles Department of City Planning) (pdf)

L.A. Is Set to Become the Largest U.S. City to Ban Fracking and Acidization (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

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