The federal government must stop approving offshore fracking from oil platforms in the Santa Barbara Channel under a legal settlement filed today in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. The agreement resolves a Center for Biological Diversity lawsuit that challenged the U.S. Department of the Interior’s practice of rubber-stamping fracking off California’s coast without engaging the public or analyzing fracking’s threats to ocean ecosystems, coastal communities and marine life, including sea otters, fish, sea turtles and whales.
“This halt to offshore fracking is a huge victory for California’s coastal environment,” said Kristen Monsell, a Center attorney. “Offshore fracking is a dirty and dangerous practice that has absolutely no place in our ocean. The federal government certainly has no right to give the oil industry free rein to frack offshore at will.”
Oil companies have fracked at least 200 wells in state and federal waters off Long Beach, Seal Beach, Huntington Beach and in the wildlife-rich Santa Barbara Channel. Offshore fracking blasts vast volumes of water mixed with toxic chemicals beneath the seafloor, at pressures high enough to fracture rocks.
The oil industry has federal permission to dump more than 9 billion gallons of wastewater, including chemical-laden fracking fluid, into the ocean off California’s coast every year.
Today’s agreement requires the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement to analyze the environmental dangers of offshore fracking and acidization under the National Environmental Policy Act. The settlement also prohibits federal officials from authorizing these inherently dangerous practices in federal waters until that analysis is concluded.
The settlement requires a “programmatic environmental assessment” to be completed by May 28, 2016. It also requires the public to be given at least 30 days to review and comment on the draft assessment.
Today’s settlement follows the city of Long Beach’s decision last month not to move forward with 13 planned offshore fracks, which would have been the first offshore fracks in state waters since 2013.
At least 10 fracking chemicals routinely used in offshore fracking in California could kill or harm a broad variety of marine species, including sea otters and fish, Center scientists have found.
“Every offshore frack puts coastal communities and marine wildlife at risk from dangerous chemicals or another devastating oil spill,” Monsell said. “Once federal officials take a hard look at the dangers, they’ll have to conclude that offshore fracking is far too big of a gamble with our oceans’ life-support systems. They’ll have to stop authorizing it for good.”
Oil companies are also using offshore fracking in the Gulf of Mexico, including in the vicinity of the disastrous Deepwater Horizon spill. Fracking in the Gulf of Mexico has also never had meaningful environmental review. Today’s agreement could affect oversight of all federally permitted offshore fracking.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 990,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.