Council Steps Into a Messy Quandary with State Over Fracking BanBy Ari L. Noonan @ 12:00 PM June 29, 2012
Much as some voluble members of the community want the City Council on Monday night to impose a local ban on fracking, including the sliver of the Baldwin Hills Oil Field the city controls, prudence and history may deem otherwise.
A higher authority, the state of California, may be beckoning. The shadow of the state’s superior authority will be peering over the shoulders of the five Council members at the 7 o’clock meeting. In a tussle for dominance, the state looms monsterishly large, like a stern, threatening father figure.
Monday night’s meeting could bring a reprise of the U.S. Supreme Court’s strikedown of Arizona’s controversial immigration law last Monday. The Council could go through the motions of enacting a hometown ban on fracking only to have Sacramento later trump it.
“I think there is a question of pre-emption, not so much jurisdiction, although at the end of the day it comes down to the same thing,” Mayor Andy Weissman, an attorney, said this morning. “The issue is whether a municipality has the right to regulate sub-surface oil operations.”
Question: How will the Council find out, enact a ban and see what happens?
“I don’t know that we are going to enact anything,” Mr. Weissman said. “The discussion on Monday is in two parts:
• “Decide whether we are going to send a letter to the state saying ‘impose a moratorium until you can demonstrate its safety and so forth. There will be a discussion about whether we need to substitute the word ‘ban’ for ‘moratorium.’
• “The second discussion is, without regard to No. 1, what, if anything, should we do about banning fracking in Culver City.
“I think the outcome of that discussion will be some direction to staff. At this juncture, I don’t know what that direction will be.”
Regardless of what transpires at Monday’s Council meeting, it will not preclude second and third rounds of Council-community talks about banning the disputed high-pressure method of oil drilling.
A mere five months ago, Feb. 1, the state’s intimidating, almost unbridled, authority to take what it wants from hometowns was placed on spectacular display when 400 Redevelopment Agencies were shut down over community protests.
From City Hall
Here is an outtake from the staff report for Monday night’s fracking moratorium/ban debate.
During public comment at recent City Council meetings, the Culver City community expressed a desire for the city to adopt local regulations or a ban on fracking. There is some dispute as to whether a municipal ban on fracking would be preempted by California’s delegation of authority to DOGGR (the state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources) to regulate oil and gas production, particularly with respect to subsurface operations. Although some of DOGGR's regulations may affect fracking, DOGGR thus far has not directly regulated fracking. For this and other reasons, an argument may be made that a City ban or moratorium on fracking is not preempted. If the city were to enact a temporary ban or moratorium on fracking, the city could anticipate that the oil operator, PXP, the Plains, Exploration & Production company, may mount a legal challenge to such ban or moratorium. The costs of defending against such a lawsuit would be significant and it is uncertain as to how a court would ultimately rule.
See culvercity.org/agendas for the complete staff report.