Oil companies are playing risky business fracking our oceans.

California's coast is the latest target. Oil companies are fracking offshore and dumping their toxic chemicals into the ocean.

Fracking and other unconventional production techniques, such as fracture acidizing, pose an urgent threat to marine wildlife and coastal communities. To get more oil out of old wells, oil companies use toxic chemicals at high pressures to force oil out of subsea rock, producing large volumes of waste contaminated with chemicals that are known carcinogens or pose other health hazards. Using new fracking technologies on aging infrastructure also increases the risk of accidents like the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill. More than 200 wells have been fracked off the coast of California, using toxic pollutants that cause cancer, genetic mutations and other harmful impacts. Oil companies are also using offshore fracking in the Gulf of Mexico.

Offshore fracking poses unacceptable risks to public health and the environment, imperiling marine ecosystems and the communities that depend on them. A 2014 Center report, Troubled Waters, found 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. Offshore fracking in California also threatens blue whales, elephant seals and leatherback sea turtles because toxic oil and fracking chemicals pollute key habitat — in addition to contributing to climate change, which of course threatens all of us.

Stopping offshore fracking is the best way to protect coastal environments and wildlife from this perilous practice. In 2013 the Center initiated a campaign urging the California Coastal Commission to put an end to offshore fracking; we held rallies to bring attention to the dangerous practice and advocated with the Commission to protect California's coast from offshore fracking. In February 2014 we petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to ban the discharge of fracking fluids into the ocean and to strengthen ocean discharge criteria — at a time when oil companies were allowed to dump up to 9 billion gallons of wastewater, including fracking chemicals, into the ocean off California every year. In 2015, the Center sued the Obama administration for failing to disclose the extent of offshore fracking in the Gulf of Mexico.  

In January 2016 the Center settled a lawsuit with the Obama administration requiring a halt to offshore fracking in federal waters off California pending the Department of the Interior's completion of a final environmental review. Unfortunately just three weeks after our settlement, Interior released a draft review that fails to adequately analyze offshore fracking's impacts on water and air pollution, as well as on the risk of earthquakes, accidents and toxic spills. In fact, the document proposes to let oil companies resume fracking off California's coast — and even to go back to dumping fracking chemicals, mixed with wastewater, into the ocean.

We can't let this proposal through. The public still has time to review and comment on this “draft programmatic environmental assessment” — take action now to urge the feds to ban offshore fracking in our precious ocean.


Blue whale photo courtesy Flickr Commons/brianorca