This past Tuesday, May 20, the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to approve a permanent moratorium on oil and gas exploration and development. Santa Cruz becomes the first county in the state of California to approve such a moratorium, which includes a ban on hydraulic fracturing. The permanent moratorium in Santa Cruz County follows a 10-month, temporary ban that was set to expire during August 2014. The Butte County Board of Supervisors voted to consider a comprehensive ban on hydraulic fracturing on April 8, 2014, and has directed its staff to draft an appropriate ordinance. As previously reported, Beverley Hills became the first city in California to ban hydraulic fracturing through a vote in early May.
As discussed in our March 20, 2014 post, Carson, California placed a temporary ban on all new oil and gas development. Efforts to make this temporary ban permanent were ultimately rejected by the Carson City Council. The failure of this moratorium in Carson was likely the result of its overbreadth. While other cities, such as Los Angeles and Beverly Hills, are seeking to place a moratorium only on well stimulation, Carson sought to stop all new oil and gas drilling altogether. The Santa Cruz County ban applies to all new oil and gas development in a similar fashion.
Ultimately, however, unlike the actions taken in Southern California, the moratorium is symbolic, rather than having any practical effect. There are no current oil and gas development projects in Santa Cruz County. The prospect of hydraulic fracturing in neighboring San Benito county spurred the symbolic moratorium, according to its proponents. These local and county moratoriums are partially the result of the Legislature’s refusal to ban well stimulation activities statewide per SB 4 last year. However, Governor Jerry Brown points out that California is a major consumer of oil. California consumed 620.2 million barrels of oil in 2012, second only to Texas. If development is halted in California, the state will be forced to import fossil fuel supplies from other states, such as North Dakota. Governor Brown contends that it is economically prudent to produce fuel within the state, rather than shipping it in.