Home Rule on Display in Los Angeles: First Oil-Producing City in California to Enact a Moratorium on Hydraulic Fracturing

by Stoel Rives LLP
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It was only a matter of time before a city banned hydraulic fracturing in California - a “home rule” state, where cities and localities are permitted by constitutional amendment to enact and enforce their own zoning laws as they see fit, so long as those laws stay within the bounds of state and federal constitutions.

Los Angeles has exercised its home rule powers, putting a moratorium on the use of any well stimulation techniques, including hydraulic fracturing and acid matrix stimulation. This moratorium comes only two months after SB 4 became effective with a statewide directive to comprehensively regulate the use of well stimulation techniques in California. Despite SB 4’s comprehensive regulatory scheme, the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously for the moratorium, thereby prohibiting not only stimulation treatments used for the purposes of increasing formation productivity, but also the use of miniscule amounts of acid for routine well maintenance. As many of our readers already know, SB 4 exempts any routine maintenance from regulation. Furthermore, SB 4 does not regulate the use of acid stimulation where the acid is less than a 7% concentration. The Los Angeles ban will impact operators seeking to conduct these activities within the city limits or within areas that provide drinking water to the city.

The purported purpose of the ban is to stop the use of well stimulation techniques until the Los Angeles City Council “decides” that Los Angeles residents are adequately protected from the alleged risks of the practice. This is in spite of the fact that a year-long study on hydraulic fracturing in the Inglewood Oil Field found that there are no adverse effects on health or the environment. The Los Angeles City Council has directed the City Attorney to draft regulations barring the practice, and it is unclear what metric will be used to make a “determination” that Los Angeles residents are protected. Los Angeles is the largest city in the country to ban hydraulic fracturing, although not the first nationwide. The state governments of Ohio and Colorado are currently litigating local bans on hydraulic fracturing.

As previously reported (see February 24, 2014 post), Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) has introduced another attempt to place a moratorium on well stimulation activities statewide, despite voting for SB 4 (which permits well stimulations to occur) just last September. Her new bill, SB 1132, would ban the practice until the independent study called for in SB 4 is conducted.

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