US: Tougher controls for offshore fracking approvals

The U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, California has ordered the federal government to stop approving offshore fracking from oil platforms in the Santa Barbara Channel without engaging the public or analyzing threats offshore fracking poses to ocean ecosystems, coastal communities and marine life.

The legal settlement from January 29 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.

Kristen Monsell, a Center attorney, said: “This halt to offshore fracking is a huge victory for California’s coastal environment. 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.”

Monsell further 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.”

This 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 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.

According to the conservation organization, 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.

The Center for Biological Diversity added that 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.

The organization is expecting this ruling to have a broader impact and encompass the practice of offshore fracking in the Gulf of Mexico, where fracking “never had a meaningful environmental review.”

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