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Local News

EDC Report Details Offshore ‘Fracking’ Operations, Calls for Oversight

A local environmental group released a report this week exploring hydraulic fracturing taking place on multiple oil platform off the Central Coast, and calling for more federal oversight for the industry behind that process.

The Environmental Defense Center released the report, called "Dirty Water: Fracking Offshore California," which speaks to the oil industry’s use of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," and other forms of well-stimulation from offshore platforms located within federal, Outer Continental Shelf waters in the Santa Barbara Channel.

The group maintains that although fracking has been conducted off of California’s shores for at least two decades, "the practice was until recently largely unknown to state and federal regulators, as well as the general public."

The group said that the practice was brought to light with two investigative articles published this summer, the first from the website trouthout.org and another from the Associated Press.

The EDC said its own review and analysis of federal records show that at least 15 fracking operations have occurred offshore California, the majority of which have been conducted from Platforms Gilda and Gail located off the Ventura County coastline, and several more proposals are pending.

Scroll down to read a full version of the report.

The group says more fracks have been conducted without regulators' knowledge.

"The information currently available shows that the majority of fracks have occurred from platforms with a history of spills that are in close proximity to the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary and other ecologically important areas," the group stated.

“The revelation that fracking is occurring off California’s shores is an alarming surprise to everyone who cherishes our state’s unparalleled and irreplaceable shoreline, particularly since federal regulators appear to have been largely unaware of the use of this dangerous technology from offshore oil platforms,” stated Brian Segee, co-author of the report and a EDC staff attorney. 

“If we are to avoid yet another offshore disaster like the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill and the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, it is imperative that the Obama administration implement an immediate moratorium on offshore fracking.”

As part of the report, the group said the Obama administration should place a moratorium on offshore fracking and other forms of well stimulation until more review can take place.

Oil industry advocates counter that their operations are already subject to strict guidelines.

"Offshore oil and gas operations are subject to stringent state and federal regulations," said Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Association.

"Every activity on an offshore platform is regulated and permitted," she said.

Ever since the 1969 oil spill off Santa Barbara's coast, "the industry has repeatedly upgraded and overhauled technology, training, and operations procedures," she said.

"To that end, WSPA and the petroleum industry have worked alongside regulators to ensure offshore drilling is accomplished in a safe, reliable, and responsible fashion. This collaboration continues today."

The County of Santa Barbara only has jurisdiction to the mean high-tide line, said Kevin Drude, the county's energy specialist.

To his knowledge, he said, no one is fracking in the county of Santa Barbara and no one has pulled permits to do so.

The county has had a discretionary permit process to regulate fracking since it discovered in 2011 that oil company Venoco was using the process on private land without county or public knowledge.

Since then, the county explicitly asks operators if they plan to use fracking in their operations, Drude said. 

It's more common for oil companies in the area to use a process such as cyclic steaming, which injects high temperature steam into a well-site to extract oil, instead of injecting water and chemicals as with hydraulic fracturing, he said.

The Santa Maria Energy project under way is an example of the process, he said.

On Wednesday, Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, weighed in on the report, saying that the health of the coast is important to her.

“Protecting our coastal waters has always been a top priority for me," she said.

"The EDC report underscores key questions regarding the scale, frequency and environmental impacts of offshore fracking activities in the Santa Barbara Channel."

Capps said her office has been questioning federal regulators about offshore fracking incidents since they first came to light.

"I will continue working to ensure the activities of oil and gas companies are properly assessed and regulated to protect the health of our environment and community," she said.

EDC Offshore Fracking Report 2013

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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