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Environmentalists protest outside a home in Bel-Air where Gov. Jerry Brown attended a fundraiser last November. The protestors were calling for a ban on fracking. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times / November 21, 2013)

SACRAMENTO -- Calling a recent bill to regulate hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," in California insufficient, a group of lawmakers are urging Gov. Jerry Brown to halt the oil and gas extraction method.

The issue of fracking, in which sand, water and chemicals are injected into the ground to release oil and gas, was one of the most contentious battles in the Legislature last year. Brown signed a bill last Sept. by Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) that regulates the practice.

But some environmentalists say the bill is too weak and that more studies should be done on the effects of fracking on groundwater contamination, seismic activity and other concerns.

Nine Democratic legislators, led by Assemblyman Marc Levine (D-San Rafael) sent Brown a letter Tuesday urging him to take executive action to stop all fracking until environmental and health questions are addressed.

Several bills to impose a moratorium on fracking fell short in the Legislature last year.

"The governor has the ability to enact a moratorium through executive order without the Legislature taking any action," Levine said in a conference call with reporters. "We saw how difficult it was for compromise in the Legislature on this issue, but there's still opportunity for environmental leadership in the executive branch."

There's little indication Brown would embrace a moratorium. In his signing statement for Pavley's bill, he said the legislation "establishes strong environmental protections and transparency requirements" for fracking and other extraction methods.

[Updated 2:29 PST Jan. 7: Evan Westrup, a spokesman for Brown, said, “After extensive debate, the Legislature — including the authors of this letter — voted to enact SB 4, which became effective just days ago. Pursuant to this bill, the regulatory process has begun and we encourage these legislators and other interested citizens to actively participate.”]

Levine voted last year in favor of the bill, SB 4, but he said the law has "left many unsatisfied."

"Until we fully understand the negative effects of fracking, a moratorium is essential to protect our environment and public health and safety," Levine said.

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melanie.mason@latimes.com

@melmason