Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Moratorium on fracking OK'd by LA City Council committee

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A Los Angeles City Council committee recommended a moratorium on fracking Tuesday, citing the state's drought, residents' health concerns and what the practice could mean for the city in the event of an earthquake. 

The full L.A. City Council is expected to consider the issue on Friday.  Fracking is a technique used to extract natural gas or oil from rock layers deep within the earth. The drought was cited because large volumes of water are used in the process.

"There's a way of drilling for oil and natural gas that many scientists are saying could cause earthquakes and contaminate our drinking water," said Councilman Mike Bonin, who authored the moratorium motion along with Councilman Paul Koretz. "And all this motion says is there should be scientific  proof that fracking and other unconventional drilling is safe before it is allowed to continue." 

If the full council approves the moratorium, the city will conduct its own study on health effects. The ban was opposed by the Western States Petroleum Association and local business groups.

"We feel these proposals are premature — if at all needed," said Ruben Gonzalez with the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce. A ban will lead, Gonzalez said, to "dirtier energy from outside the state, a loss of jobs, loss of millions in revenue to government."

Committee members could not say precisely how much fracking takes place within the city limits, but Bonin said:  “Fracking and unconventional drilling are largely unregulated and we don’t know the true extent of the threats here in Los Angeles. Make no mistake, a lot of people say there’s not a lot of fracking in Los Angeles. Fracking and other unconventional drilling is happening here in Los Angles and without the oversight and review to keep our neighborhoods safe.”

Oil drilling was recently halted at two sites in South L.A. after residents complained. The operator of one of those sites says fracking does not take place there. However, a related process called “acidization” is being used.

What is generally considered the largest urban oil field in the country includes parts of Culver City, Baldwin Hills and Inglewood — outside the L.A. city limits.

The Chamber of Commerce's Gonzalez asked that the city wait for the California Department of Natural Resources to conduct an independent study of fracking, which was called for in State Sen. Fran Pavley's bill when it was approved last year. 

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