Amid an outcry from worried residents and environmental activists, Los Angeles is poised to ban hydraulic fracturing, acidizing and other technologies used to increase production from oil and gas wells.
The City Council voted unanimously Friday to start drafting rules that would bar such practices until city politicians are sure Angelenos and their water are safe.
The council asked the city attorney and other staffers to prepare an ordinance that would change the city zoning code.
Under the proposal, so-called fracking, acidizing and other kinds of “well stimulation” would be prohibited until the council was assured that state and federal regulations adequately protected people from their effects.
"Until these radical methods of oil and gas extraction are at the very least covered by the Safe Drinking Water Act, until chemicals are disclosed and problems are honestly reported, until we're safe from earthquakes, until our atmosphere is safe from methane leaks, we need a fracking moratorium," Councilman Paul Koretz told a cheering crowd at a news conference before the vote.
Environmental activists argue that fracking, acidizing and other controversial methods used to coax oil and gas from wells can taint water or trigger earthquakes when wastewater is injected back underground.
At a Tuesday hearing, Angelenos who had suffered health problems and cracked walls blamed drilling practices at nearby wells.
Oil and gas companies counter that hydraulic fracturing and other well stimulation technologies are safe, proven ways to yield more energy and generate jobs. They also question how broadly the Los Angeles rules will be written, arguing the existing proposal is so “generic,” it could halt routine well maintenance.
Hydraulic fracturing uses injections of water mixed with chemicals to break up shale formations underground, freeing oil and natural gas trapped in the rock. Acidizing, which appears to be more common in L.A., routinely uses chemicals, including hydrochloric and hydrofluoric acid.
Prohibiting such practices in Los Angeles would only go so far: Many local wells that currently use such “well stimulation” techniques lie outside the city limits, according to data reported last summer to the South Coast Air Quality Management District.
For example, the Baldwin Hills area, where residents have complained about cracking walls and health ailments, is near a host of L.A. County wells.
Backers of the ban say that even if few wells are immediately affected, it will prevent fracking and acidizing from happening in the future at thousands of active and abandoned wells in Los Angeles. The move would also prod the county and the state to adopt similar bans, activists said.
"We in West Adams do live above shale. If the oil companies were even thinking about fracking ... this is an important first step toward a moratorium," said Joanne Kim, a West Adams resident concerned about drilling in her neighborhood.