A vote taken by the Los Angeles City Council last week could set the stage for a city-wide ban on hydraulic fracturing.  During its session on Friday, February 28, the ten-member council unanimously approved a motion to draft ordinances prohibiting all natural gas “well stimulation,” including fracking,acidization, and gravel packing, within the city limits.  If ultimately accepted, the ordinances would make L.A. the largest city in the nation to impose a moratorium on fracking.

The new ordinances, which are to be drafted by the City Attorney’s office, are expected to forbid fracking-related activities until the city can confirm that such practices do not put the public at risk.  Lifting the ban would be contingent, at least in part, on the development of more stringent drilling regulations by federal and state authorities.  Under its current system, the city regulates where oil and gas wells can operate, but producers are under no obligation to disclose their extraction methods.

Supporters of the moratorium contend that fracking has inherent dangers, including the risk of contaminating the city’s water supply.  Councilman Mike Bonin, the motion’s coauthor, justified the ban, arguing fracking is “largely unregulated and we don’t know the true extent of the threats here in Los Angeles.”

But oil and gas drillers counter that imposing a ban would be a huge mistake.  Catherine Reheis-Boyd, President of the Western States Petroleum Association, attacked the council vote in a prepared statement:  “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.”  Critics also point out the new ordinances, if enacted, could prompt companies toshutter otherwise productive wells.

L.A. is home to one of the largest urban oil fields in the country, with more than 1,800 wells currently operating within the city limits.  Less than one tenth of those facilities are estimated to use fracking or other related extraction techniques.

It remains unclear when the council expects to vote on the proposed ordinances.  Further news coverage can be found here.