fundamental flaws in the federal government’s first ever environmental analysis of fracking and acidizing from offshore oil platforms in southern California, including the Santa Barbara Channel. In response to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s (“BOEM”) and Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement’s (“BSEE”) draft programmatic environmental assessment (“draft PEA”), the comment letter states the federal agencies’ analysis overlooks potentially significant impacts, such as harmful impacts of toxic discharges of frac flowback fluid on the marine environment or extending the life of oil platforms, and requests that the agencies conduct more comprehensive environmental review.
Here is the entire press release -
The draft assessment is a hard fought requirement of EDC’s recent lawsuit settlement with BOEM and BSEE, and is the agencies’ first attempt at studying the significant risks that these practices pose to water and air quality and the many endangered species within the Santa Barbara Channel, including blue, fin, and humpback whales, and the southern sea otter. Unfortunately, as EDC and Surfrider’s letter demonstrates, the draft analysis falls far short of legal requirements in several critical respects.
“The unknown cocktail of toxic chemicals used in offshore fracking and acidizing pose a tremendous threat to the local environment at every point of the practice, from transportation to platforms, injection into wells, and discharge of the frac fluids into the open ocean,” said Maggie Hall, Staff Attorney with EDC.
“The Santa Barbara Channel is an invaluable resource that supports numerous species of marine wildlife, as well as our local tourism, recreation, and fishery industries. Any consideration of offshore fracking in our waters must address the significant potential environmental and economic impacts of this activity. The Environmental Assessment by BOEM and BSEE failed to do that, said Amanda Winchell, the California Coastal Policy Coordinator with Surfrider Foundation.
Specifically, EDC and Surfrider’s letter raises the following flaws in the draft PEA:
- The draft PEA concludes, almost without exception, that offshore well stimulation will have no impact whatsoever, on: air quality; water quality; geologic resources/seismicity; benthic resources; marine and coastal fish and essential fish habitat; marine and coastal birds; marine mammals; sea turtles; commercial and recreational fisheries; areas of special concern; recreation and tourism; environmental justice; and archeological resources. However, the agencies’ conclusions lack scientific support.
- The draft PEA unlawfully implies the agencies have an obligation to allow these well stimulation techniques, when in fact their obligation is to the public to ensure a thorough and complete analysis of environmental risks before deciding whether or not to allow such activities.
- The agencies’ analysis of alternatives is extremely narrow and does not include an alternative that would meaningfully restrict well simulation to preserve the environment.
- The draft PEA suffers from missing information and numerous data gaps, including the toxicity and impacts of chemicals utilized in the process.
- The agencies fail to adequately address indirect impacts, such as extending the life of existing oil platforms and associated risks.
- The PEA fails to analyze the added impact that these practices have when combined with impacts we are already experiencing from other oil activities in the area, such as the Refugio Oil Spill.
- The agencies reach the baseless conclusion that prohibiting offshore well stimulation will have greater impacts than allowing it, due to unfounded speculation about resulting increases in drilling onshore or increased import of oil and gas.
Prepared under the federal National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”), the draft PEA is a preliminary step in analyzing and disclosing the impacts that result from enhanced drilling activities such as fracking and acidizing. Contrary to available information, the document summarily concludes that offshore fracking and acidizing from the 22 southern California offshore oil platforms has had and will continue to have no environmental impact. EDC and Surfrider’s letter explains that, in fact, offshore well stimulation does pose a risk to the environment and, as such, the agencies are required to prepare a more detailed Environmental Impact Statement (“EIS”).
Under EDC’s legal settlement, the agencies must issue the final environmental review document by May 28, 2016, and have placed a moratorium on the issuance of drilling permits that allow well stimulation until the process is complete. “The current moratorium on offshore well stimulation should remain in place until the agencies have completed a robust environmental analysis that takes a true ‘hard look’ at impacts, as the law requires,” said Maggie Hall.
In addition to the environmental review process, under the settlement, BOEM and BSEE have also committed to developing an electronic filing and public notification web site for offshore drilling permit applications, and must post completed applications to the system within five days.
Acidizing and fracking are both dangerous oil production processes involving the injection of large amounts of water and chemicals into the ground in order to fracture or dissolve rock. In both processes, many chemicals remain undisclosed under “trade secret” laws, but are known to pose risks at all stages of use, from transportation to and from the platforms, to disposal of such chemicals through underground injection or direct discharge to the ocean. More information can be found in EDC’s Dirty Water: Fracking Offshore California report.
The comment letter can be viewed on EDC’s website.
Environmental Defense Center, a non-profit law firm, protects and enhances the local environment through education, advocacy, and legal action and works primarily within Ventura, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo Counties. Founded in response to the 1969 Oil Spill more than 40 years ago, EDC has represented itself and other organizations to advance environmental protection. Program areas include protecting coast and ocean resources, open spaces and wildlife, and human and environmental health. Learn more about EDC at www.EnvironmentalDefenseCenter.org.
The Surfrider Foundation is a non-profit grassroots organization dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of our world’s ocean, waves and beaches through a powerful activist network. Founded in 1984 by a handful of visionary surfers in Malibu, California, the Surfrider Foundation now maintains over 250,000 supporters, activists and members worldwide. For more information on the Surfrider Foundation, visitwww.surfrider.org.