Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, February 19, 2015

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

Lawsuit Seeks to Halt Offshore Fracking in California

Legal Action Could Also Affect Federally Permitted Fracking in Gulf of Mexico

SAN FRANCISCO— The Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Interior Department today for violating three federal laws by rubberstamping offshore fracking off California’s coast without analyzing fracking pollution’s threats to ocean ecosystems, coastal communities and marine wildlife, including sea otters, fish, sea turtles and whales.

Oil companies have fracked more than 200 wells in state and federal waters off California’s coast; today’s suit challenges the federal government for its permitting role. Offshore fracking blasts huge amounts of water mixed with dangerous chemicals into the earth, under extremely high pressure, to crack rock formations beneath the ocean floor.

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.

“Every offshore frack increases the threat to our fragile ocean ecosystems,” said Miyoko Sakashita, an attorney and director of the Center’s oceans program. “The Interior Department is turning a blind eye while oil companies frack wells and dump chemicals into our oceans. If the federal government doesn’t halt this inherently dangerous practice, fracking chemicals or a disastrous oil spill could wreak havoc on marine wildlife and coastal communities.”

The Center’s lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in California, seeks to prohibit the federal government from issuing permits allowing fracking until it complies with the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Coastal Zone Management Act.

The Center’s legal complaint points out that the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement have developed “a pattern and practice of rubberstamping permits to frack with no analysis of the environmental impacts, no determination of whether such activities are consistent with the plans governing oil development and production in the Pacific Region or California’s Coastal Management Program, and no public involvement.”

The federal government has also given oil companies permission to frack at least 100 wells in the Gulf of Mexico, including in the vicinity of the disastrous Deepwater Horizon spill. They’re also dumping vast quantities of wastewater into the Gulf of Mexico. Similarly, fracking in the Gulf of Mexico has never had meaningful environmental review. The lawsuit in California could affect oversight of all federally permitted offshore fracking.

Fracking chemicals threaten water quality along both coasts. Dangerously high levels of cancer-causing benzene and chromium-6 are common in fracking flowback fluid from onshore wells in California, according to a recent Center analysis of tests conducted by oil companies. 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.

“Fracking has caused terrible damage on land, and it clearly has no place in our oceans,” Sakashita said. “If federal officials follow the law and take a hard look at the risks, they’ll have to conclude that offshore fracking is far too big of a gamble with our oceans’ life-support systems.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 825,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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