March 19, 2014 / 7:56 PM / 5 years ago

California city halts new oil drilling over fracking concerns

SAN FRANCISCO, March 19 (Reuters) - The council of the Los Angeles County city of Carson, California, has unanimously approved a 45-day moratorium on new oil and gas drilling, a setback for Occidental Petroleum’s plans to drill more than 200 new wells there and the latest example of local governments taking a stand against fracking.

Occidental originally presented its plan to drill new wells in the Dominquez Oil Field in Carson in 2012. At the time it said it planned to use hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to reach an estimated 52 million barrels of oil trapped below ground in the area.

Fracking consists of injecting water, sand and chemicals deep underground at high pressure to break apart rock and release oil and gas into a well. Its use has helped spur an energy boom across the United States.

Occidental’s plans were met with resistance from the Carson community, which voiced concern about the impact fracking could have on local air and water quality.

When two test wells currently operating at the Dominquez project showed fracking would not effectively increase production, Occidental withdrew fracking from the project’s scope, Occidental spokeswoman Susie Geiger said.

Despite that, the city council approved the moratorium on new oil drilling by a vote of 5-0 late Tuesday to give city officials time to consider additional regulations.

“There are too many questions, too many unknowns and too many possible bad consequences that could result from the city engaging in this activity,” said Albert Robles, the Carson council member who led the moratorium charge.

“These questions significantly outweigh any possible benefit to the residents of Carson.”

The city council will consider a one-year moratorium after the 45-day period is up, Robles said.

Environmental groups, which held a rally outside city hall prior to Tuesday’s vote, expressed concerns that Occidental would later decide to frack or use other controversial drilling techniques like acidization.

They said they hope the moratorium will eventually lead to an outright ban on all new oil and gas production in Carson.

Geiger said it was unclear what impact the moratorium would have on Occidental’s plans for the project. She said the project would provide well-paying jobs and increased tax revenue for Carson, Los Angeles County and the state.

The vote in Carson is the latest example of local governments moving to take a closer look at fracking after a bill that sought to bring the practice to a halt failed to pass the California state legislature last year. California Governor Jerry Brown has declined to impose a moratorium by executive order, angering many environmentalists in the state.

The coastal city of Santa Cruz passed a fracking moratorium in September. Last month, the Los Angeles city council voted unanimously to prohibit fracking and other unconventional oil recovery practices at oil fields in the city. A final vote is required before it goes into effect.

“California cities and counties have broad legal and moral authority to stop fracking at the local level,” said Zack Malitz of progressive group Credo, which has helped organize scores of rallies against fracking in California.

“If Governor Brown doesn’t stand up to the fracking industry, he should expect a wave of local governments, under intense pressure from their constituents, to take action to protect residents from the toxic effects of fracking,” he said.

Reporting by Rory Carroll; Editing by Steve Orlofsky

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