Despite assurances from Occidental Petroleum that it has no intention of using hydraulic fracturing (fracking) on 200 wells it wants to develop, the Carson City Council in Los Angeles County voted unanimously to ban new oil and gas drilling for 45 days while it studies a longer moratorium.
The five city councilmembers may have been swayed by the fact that Occidental originally said in 2012, when it proposed the drilling, that it planned to use fracking, a controversial process that injects thousands of gallons of pressurized water, sand and toxic chemicals into the ground to crack open wells.
But Occidental changed its tune when the community expressed opposition. Occidental spokeswoman Susie Geiger told Reuters that the company discarded fracking as an option at the Dominguez Oil Field when two test wells showed it wouldn’t effectively increase production.
Because state law makes it hard to know if a company is fracking and, if it is, what chemicals it is using, residents were skeptical of new Occidental pledges that it would abstain. Fracking has grown in popularity recently, along with acidization and other well stimulation methods, as a way of reanimating seemingly tapped out and hard-to-exploit sites.
The Carson vote comes just two days after a 4.4-earthquake jolted Los Angeles and a report (pdf) came out linking quakes to fracking. Although the L.A. earthquake has not been blamed on injection wells, like those used with fracking, its epicenter was eight miles from one.
Carson joins Santa Cruz County, which banned fracking last September, and the city of Los Angeles, which set a fracking ban in motion weeks ago, as the first local entities in California to resist a technique that has been associated with groundwater contamination, air pollution, releases of methane gas, micro-earthquakes and sinkholes.
A spokesman for the Western States Petroleum Assn. told the Los Angeles Times he thought Carson was the first city in California to ever ban drilling, even for a short period of time.
Governor Jerry Brown opposes a fracking moratorium and the Legislature passed its first fracking oversight law last year. Senate Bill 4 was roundly assailed by critics because it allows fracking to continue unabated until 2015 while regulations are drafted.
A mandated statewide environmental impact report on the practice isn’t due until July 2015. And while it does require frackers to reveal when toxic materials are injected into the ground, they can keep secret details on the mix of the toxic brew. Public notification provisions are also considered by many to be ineffectively weak.
State officials and the oil and gas industry are salivating at the prospect of using fracking and its kissin’ cousin, acidization, to bust open the Monterey Shale, a repository of oil in Central California that could top 15.3 billion barrels and may represent 60% of all shale oil in the country.
Carson is not unfamiliar with oil drilling. Dominguez Oil Field was first developed in 1921. More than 600 wells have been drilled there over the years, producing some 270 million barrels of oil. Occidental has indicated it thinks it can extract another 52 million barrels from the field.