Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, February 22, 2016

Contact: Kristen Monsell, (914) 806-3467,

Obama Administration Review Ignores Dangers of Offshore Fracking in California

 Cursory Analysis Comes Just Three Weeks After Settling Lawsuit 

LOS ANGELES— Three weeks after agreeing to take a hard look at offshore fracking’s threats to California’s coast, the Obama administration has released a draft environmental assessment from the Department of the Interior that fails to answer key questions about the risks of this controversial oil-extraction technique.

The draft analysis was required by a legal settlement, filed Jan. 29, that resolved a Center for Biological Diversity lawsuit over fracking from offshore platforms in the wildlife-rich Santa Barbara Channel. That settlement required a halt to offshore fracking in federal waters off California, pending Interior’s completion of a final environmental review. But the draft assessment fails to adequately analyze the impacts of water and air pollution from offshore fracking and the increased risk of earthquakes, accidents and toxic spills caused by this inherently dangerous practice.

Instead, the document proposes to let oil companies resume fracking off California’s coast, and even allow the industry to go back to dumping fracking chemicals mixed with wastewater into the ocean.

“It’s deeply disappointing to see the Obama administration proposing to let oil companies resume offshore fracking when it poses such a toxic threat to California’s marine life and coastal communities,” said Kristen Monsell, a Center attorney. “The Interior Department is blowing off its legal responsibility to carefully consider the risks and harms of offshore fracking. Instead of protecting California’s wildlife and coastal communities from fracking chemicals and oil-spill risk, federal officials seem keen to resume rubber-stamping this toxic technique as quickly as possible.”

The Center’s lawsuit, filed last year, challenged the Interior Department’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 whales and other marine life.

Yet Interior’s assessment provides only a cursory analysis of offshore fracking’s biggest threats to California’s coastal environment. The analysis also ignores the cumulative impacts of offshore fracking on marine life and coastal communities already threatened by other industrial activities in our ocean, including other offshore oil and gas drilling activities and commercial shipping.

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. 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 legal settlement requires Interior’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 near California until that analysis is concluded.

The public has 30 days to review and comment on the “draft programmatic environmental assessment.”

“The Interior Department has a legal obligation to take a much harder look at the risks of offshore fracking,” Monsell said. “Our coast can’t take another oil spill or a deluge of toxic fracking chemicals. If federal officials thoroughly analyze the risks to California’s fragile marine environments, they’ll have to stop authorizing this toxic technique.”

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.


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