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LA City Council moves forward with effort to ban fracking (Updated)

The L.A. City Council voted Friday to ban fracking, acidization and gravel packing at oil wells in the city.
The L.A. City Council voted Friday to ban fracking, acidization and gravel packing at oil wells in the city.
David McNew/Getty Images

The Los Angeles City Council voted Friday to seek a ban on fracking and other controversial drilling techniques at oil and gas wells throughout the city, though it's unclear how a moratorium would impact sites already operating in the city. 

With a 10-0 vote, the council asked the City Attorney's Office to draft an ordinance that would ban fracking, acidization and gravel packing until there are state and federal regulations that bring the practices into compliance with the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Fracking is a technique used to extract natural gas or oil from rock layers deep within the earth by injecting highly-pressurized water. Acidization, which sends chemicals deep into the earth, was being used at an oil drilling site in South L.A. until a moratorium was recently put into effect, after which the city discovered the operator didn't have the proper permits.  

The city currently approves zoning for oil wells, but it doesn't require operators to specify their techniques. That means city leaders don't know how much fracking takes place in Los Angeles. The Daily News reported that according to the Air Quality Management District, there was no fracking in the city for the six-month period ending in December.

"It's time to stop this crazy practice. Stop the insanity. Protect our health and safety," said Councilman Paul Koretz, who co-authored the moratorium motion with Councilman Mike Bonin. 

Critics of fracking say the practice can contaminate water supplies and increase the risk of earthquakes. Research by the U.S. Geological Survey found that an earthquake can occur when the fluid used for fracking hits a stressed fault. 

It is "fracturing of the earth, breaking up and shattering the earth in an area riddled with earthquake faults," Bonin said.  "It is, as I have said repeatedly, energy production by Dr. Strangelove."

It's unclear how a ordinance could impact oil wells already permitted for operation in the city.

The proposed ban was opposed by the city's pro-business groups and the Western States Petroleum Association. The L.A. City Council did not hear from them Friday because a public hearing was held earlier in the week. 

In a statement released Friday, the president of the Western States Petroleum Association, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, said: "A moratorium on a safe and proven energy production technology for the city of Los Angeles – the driving capital of the world – will send the wrong signal about California’s energy and economic future."

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.