In A Victory For Environmentalists, Officials Halt Offshore Fracking Permits In California

CREDIT: AP Photo/Reed Saxon

A sea otter is seen in Morro Bay, Calif., Friday, Jan. 15, 2010.

The federal government won’t be issuing any new permits to frack for oil or gas in the waters off California, after a settlement was reached Friday in a case brought by the Center for Biological Diversity. The settlement also directs the U.S. Department of the Interior to analyze the environmental impacts of offshore fracking.

“Every offshore frack puts coastal communities and marine wildlife at risk from dangerous chemicals or another devastating oil spill,” Kristen Monsell, an attorney with the group, said in a statement. “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.”

In 2013, an investigation by the Associated Press revealed that there were more than 200 instances of fracking operations in state and federal waters off California — which were all unknown to the state agency that oversees offshore oil and gas. The lawsuit alleged the federal regulators were rubber-stamping permit applications.

In fracking — both on and offshore — water mixed with chemicals is injected at high pressure to fracture underground rock, releasing oil and gas deposits. The practice has been criticized for potentially contaminating groundwater with toxins. Fracking also creates large amounts of wastewater.

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, California’s oil industry is allowed to dispose of more than 9 billion gallons of wastewater by dumping it into the ocean off California’s coast every year. The chemicals in fracking can be deadly to marine life, including both fish and California’s beloved, at-risk otter population.

“Offshore fracking is a dirty and dangerous practice that has absolutely no place in our ocean,” Monsell said. “The federal government certainly has no right to give the oil industry free rein to frack offshore at will.”

The Interior’s environmental assessment must be done by May 28. The public will have at least 30 days to review and comment on the draft assessment.

The American Petroleum Institute issued a statement after the agreement was announced, saying that an environmental review of offshore fracking was unnecessary, the Associated Press reported.