On March 20, 2014, the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 to prohibit hydraulic fracturing and oil and gas development in their county. This ban continues the ten-month moratorium that was started in September 2013.

Santa Cruz’s ban of hydraulic fracturing is largely symbolic because there are no known oil leases in the county nor has the area been targeted by oil and gas developers.

While Santa Cruz becomes the first county in California to prohibit hydraulic fracturing, other counties are considering their own bans or moratoria, including Butte, Mendocino, Monterey, Santa Barbara, San Benito, and Orange.

Beverly Hills recently enacted a ban on fracking and other well stimulating operations from any surface within the city as well as from any site outside of city limits that would extract oil and gas underneath the city. Los Angeles and Culver City are considering the same action. Meanwhile, in Carson, California, the city council refused to extend a temporary moratorium on fracking and other extraction activities.

Several state legislators are pushing for a statewide moratorium on hydraulic fracturing and acidizing activities, both onshore and offshore, until a sufficient state study on the threats and impacts of fracking is completed and regulations are in place to protect the state and its citizens. The proposed statewide moratorium is opposed by Governor Jerry Brown who supports the “great opportunities” that hydraulic fracturing can give to the state.

In October 2012, the Center for Biological Diversity and other environmental groups sued the state, seeking to prohibit the use of fracking until the California Department of Conservation, Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) “complies with its legal requirements to evaluate and mitigate the significant environmental and public health impacts caused by hydraulic fracturing.” In January 2014, the lawsuit was dismissed. with the Court stating that the questions were “not ripe for judicial review because the DOGGR has not yet completed its regulations.”

Of interest is that next month, the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) is expected to announce that the Monterey Shale has less shale oil reserves than previously estimated – a reduction from the estimated 13.7 billion barrels to just over 600 million barrels of recoverable crude.

The lawsuit referenced above is Center for Biological Diversity, Earthworks, Environmental Working Group, and Sierra Club v. California Department of Conservation, Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources, and DOES I through X, Case No. RG12652054, In the Superior Court for the State of California for the City and County of Alameda (October 16, 2012).

This post was written by Barclay Nicholson (barclay.nicholson@nortonrosefulbright.com or 713.651.3662) from Norton Rose Fulbright’s Energy Practice Group.