Is L.A. Backtracking on its Fracking Ban?
In February the City Council made headlines when it voted to take a first step toward a ban on fracking within Los Angeles municipal limits.
The body voted unanimously to have city staffers draft the fine print of a law that would outlaw hydraulic oil and gas extraction, a.k.a. fracking, on L.A. turf. Environmentalists say the process, which pushes pressurized liquid into rock formations to squeeze out fossil fuels, could contaminate drinking water supplies and even trigger earthquakes.
Instead of getting its ordinance, however, the council was recently given a report by the Department of City Planning. It says a fracking ban will not be that easy and suggests that more time is needed. At least one city leader is fuming.
Westside Councilman Mike Bonin told us he was "frustrated" that, nearly nine months later, the council still doesn't have a law to vote on:
The motion I co-authored with Paul Koretz, and which was unanimously approved by the Council, was direct—it asked for city staff to prepare an ordinance that would place a moratorium on fracking and other unconventional drilling in Los Angeles until it can be proven safe. I am incredibly frustrated that city staff has ignored this instruction from the Council. Unconventional drilling could pose a very serious risk to people, property and the environment in Los Angeles and I remain committed to working with my colleagues to protect the neighborhoods we represent.
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The nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council, a prominent critic of fracking, was also disappointed by the report, which concludes that hiring a "technical expert" would be necessary before new zoning rules could be enacted.
Not only that, but the city planning officials appear to suggest that "mitigation measures that can alleviate impacts of oil and gas activity" would be favorable to a ban and that the council could take it slow until more "empirical scientific research emerges."
NRDC senior attorney Damon Nagami:
Tessa Stuart/L.A. Weekly
City officials did not do the one thing they were directed to do—create an ordinance that would place a moratorium on fracking in Los Angeles. In response to overwhelming support from the people of this city, the council unanimously voted to halt fracking here. It’s time to go back to the drawing board and answer their call.
The City Planning report suggests that city agreements with fracking concerns can force them to "monitor a given aspect of their performance under explicit terms with responsibility to submit performance audits could submit to strict performance audits."
It also brings up the idea, used in Dallas, of creating a fracking-free, 1,500 foot buffer zone around homes, schools, churches, shopping areas, and water wells.
In a statement, Koretz's office appeared to be forgiving, saying City Hall doesn't have the expertise yet to get the ban done today:
The Planning Department has indicated that it lacks "qualified City staff" regarding fundamental aspects of well stimulation, and that there is a need to hire an outside expert.
We look forward to the acquisition of any such expertise, so that all of the City Council’s directives regarding well stimulation can be knowledgeably and responsively achieved.
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