As sides on both sides of the oil fracking debate solidify in North County, a North County-adjacent city council has placed a ban on drilling and fracking on the ballot.
The La Habra Heights City Council voted Thursday to place the initiative, which would also ban the reactivation of existing oil wells, on the March 4, 2015, ballot for voters in the Los Angeles County city with a population of 5,000 and change.
However, four of the five council members say they hope the measure will not pass out of fears "out-of-town" lawyers might sue the city on behalf of the oil industry, causing taxpayer funds to be used to defend it. Mayor Brian Bergman says he'll write the ballot argument against the ban for that reason.
Mike Hughes, president of Heights Oil Watch, which collected 396 valid signatures to place the measure on the ballot, tells in the Whittier Daily News that the initiative "places common sense restrictions on oil and gas land uses in the city."
Hughes says industry claims about the ban applying to all existing wells are wrong, countering it only applies to the plans of one company in town.*
[*Correction: "For the record, that is not what I said," Hughes tells the Weekly. "We (Heights Oil Watch) have not designed our initiative to target one company. There was one company that struck the attention of our citizens with an outrageous proposal that involved trucking 18 wheel tanker trucks through our rural country lanes but our 'Healthy City' initiative clearly does not single out any one oil company."]
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Alexandra Nagy, Southern California organizer of the anti-fracking Food & Water Watch, seconded Hughes in a statement to the media: "We are happy to see that La Habra Heights is moving forward with a measure on the March ballot to ban extreme oil extraction and new drilling in their town. The residents who founded Heights Oil Watch know what others in the region are quickly learning in their own right: unconventional or extreme oil drilling is not appropriate land use in our communities. A boom in drilling poses an irreversible threat to property values, health and quality of life. If elected officials are unwilling to protect their constituents from dangerous oil industry practices, residents must take matters into their own hands, as the concerned residents of La Habra Heights have done."
On the flip side is Benjamin Hamelin, an attorney for Californians for Energy Independence, a statewide coalition of oil companies, who complains the initiative is so broad that it bans all kinds of measures that have been used for the last 100 years in California.
"It will have a devastating effect on production," Hamelin told the Daily News. "The definition of enhanced recovery is so broad that it prevents anything from being done. Proponents claim that idle wells can be reactivated are just wrong."