Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, August 28, 2014

Contact: Patrick Sullivan, (415) 517-9364,   

Federal Scientific Review Highlights Grave Risks of California Fracking

Huge Data Gaps Limit Report's Usefulness

SAN FRANCISCO— A scientific review released today by the federal government finds that fracking pollution threatens California’s air and water, but the study is based on just a few months of data and suffers from state regulators’ unlawful failure to report information on more than 100 instances of fracking and other dangerous well-stimulation activities.

The study, commissioned by the Bureau of Land Management and conducted by the California Council on Science and Technology, comes in response to a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club over leasing of public land in California to oil companies. A federal judge ruled last year that the BLM had violated the law when it issued oil leases in Monterey County, Calif., without considering fracking’s environmental risks.

“This report raises grave concerns about fracking pollution’s threat to California’s air and water, but it also highlights the fact that government officials have never collected the data needed to determine the extent of the damage in our state,” said Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. “A few months of incomplete data simply can’t support a federal decision to resume selling off our public lands in California to oil companies. Using this report as a basis for continued fracking in California is illogical and illegal.” 

“The study also ignores all the harms from oil production enabled by fracking, which is absurd,” Siegel said. “People don’t suffer fracking in isolation. They experience it with all the other devastating phases of oil and gas production. To separate them in this report is indefensible.”

Among the review’s most disturbing conclusions:

  • Fracking in California happens at much shallower levels than elsewhere, and the report notes that, “Hydraulic fracturing at shallow depths poses a greater potential risk to water resources because of its proximity to groundwater and the potential for fractures to intersect nearby aquifers.”
  • The study notes that investigators “could not determine the groundwater quality near many hydraulic fracturing operations and found that existing data was insufficient to evaluate the extent to which contamination may have occurred.”
  • Some fracking chemicals used in California are “acutely toxic to mammals,” the report says, while also noting that “No information could be found about the toxicity of about a third of the chemicals and few of the chemicals have been evaluated to see if animals or plants would be harmed by chronic exposure.”
  • The report says that “Current practice and testing requirements do not necessarily protect against adding produced water contaminated with hydraulic fracturing fluid to water used in agriculture.”

Earlier this year a Center analysis found more than 100 violations of California’s new public disclosure rules for fracking and other dangerous oil-production methods, underscoring the inadequacy of the data used for this study. Legally mandated reports for at least 92 documented frack jobs in California are currently missing from the online reporting system maintained by California’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources.

BLM California Director Jim Kenna told media on a press call today that the review provides a basis for resuming leasing of California’s public lands for oil and gas leasing, even though this study is simply supposed to the first step in an environmental impact assessment.

“How can we count on a fair and unbiased process for evaluating the decision to resume leasing when the head of California BLM has predetermined the outcome?” Siegel said. “First we get the verdict, and then we get the trial.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 775,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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