Resolution Requests Ban
Some words send a stronger message than others. That was the conclusion reached by a majority of the Culver City Council Monday night.
The Council voted to send a resolution to the state of California and California Department of Conservation, Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) to place a ban on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in state and local oil fields, and on the disposal of fracking wastewater by injection wells, until DOGGR adopts comprehensive regulations to ensure public health and safety.
The 3-2 vote in favor of using “ban” followed a unanimous agreement in favor of sending the resolution. However the resolution had been worded originally with the word “moratorium.” (Merriam-Webster’s dictionary definition: “waiting period set by an authority” or “a suspension of activity”).
The change of wording came via an amendment proposed by council member Meghan Sahli-Wells.
“I think the state needs the pressure,” she explained. ”With the many problems going on in this country and other countries, we don’t have the time to mess around and not be bold.” The word “ban,” she insisted “sends a message that needs to be heard.”
The revised resolution reads, in part, “The City of Culver City urges Governor Jerry Brown and the California Department of Conservation, Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), to immediately place a ban on hydraulic fracturing and on the disposal of fracking wastewater by injection wells until DOGGR takes all necessary and appropriate actions to adopt, implement and enforce comprehensive regulations concerning the practice of fracking that will ensure that public health and safety and the environment will be adequately protected.”
The resolution was created after a community meeting on June 12 at which the Council heard testimony from numerous community members as to their intense opposition to fracking, with most of them asking that the practice be completely banned.
Prior to the vote on the resolution, over 20 speakers, most of them from Culver City but including some Los Angeles residents who live nearby and/or were in sympathy with the opposition to fracking, spoke up once again to express their disapproval of the practice.
From a speaker who presented a slide show with photos of cracked pavements and leaking wells to a father whose young son stated simply “Ban fracking!” the message was clear that no one thought that DOGGR could regulate the practice and therefore prevent disasters like air pollution and earthquakes.
The statements of the speakers varied in the amount of information given and in the style of delivery. Many of them described the difficulty of living close to the Culver City-Baldwin Hills oil field owned and operated by Plains Exploration and Research (PXP).
Dr. Suzanne DeBenedittis presented findings from the National Academy of Sciences; recent City Council candidate Stephen Murray cited 89 cities that have banned the practice; and Chris Payne, director of the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car, stated his pride in living in a city that supported environmentalism. But the basic sentiment—that there be no fracking done at all statewide-- was repeated by virtually every speaker.
A representative for Assembly Member Holly Mitchell said that Mitchell was keeping up on the concerns of the community and is revising the language of an anti-fracking bill that she is co-authoring.
The fervor for asking for a total ban was supported by Sahli-Wells and seconded by Jeff Cooper. Jim Clarke and Mehaul O’ Leary, on the other hand, thought that the use of the word “moratorium” was better. They both wanted to obtain more information on the risks of fracking and believed that a “moratorium” would allow time for that information to be collected.
Mayor Andrew Weissman found himself leaning toward the use of “moratorium.” But when Sahli-Wells re-stated her support for a strong message, Weissman conceded that if it took the use of “ban” to send a unanimous message, then he would be in favor of it. This elicited a lengthy round of applause from the audience.
The Council also discussed what action to take on a local level.
While there is obviously much local support for a Culver City ban on fracking, it is not known whether a municipal band would be pre-empted by California’s delegation of authority to DOGGR to regulate oil and gas production. DOGGR has not directly regulated fracking (the lack of precise information about regulations in a DOGGR presentation at the June 12 meeting angered many community members and O’Leary cited it as “shameful”).
For this and other reasons, it could be argued that a City ban or moratorium on fracking is not pre-empted. However, PXP might mount a legal action against a ban or moratorium and the cost to the City of such a lawsuit could be significant.
Culver City’s oil drilling ordinance needs revising and Weissman observed that the drilling itself is a problem. With the PXP field only partially located in Culver City (100 acres) and the rest of it in Los Angeles County, with the entire oil field surrounded by an urban area, the field’s unique geography is a factor that precludes comparison to actions taken in other American cities.
All five Council members agreed to ask the City to provide more information about fracking and oil drilling risks and hazards in order for the Council to revise the local ordinance and take any other necessary actions.
At O’Leary’s request, the Council also agreed to send a letter to DOGGR with the Council’s and the community’s questions and comments.