News and analysis about energy in California with an eye toward renewables.

Fracking Projects Approved Off Santa Barbara Coast, Opposition Swells

DCOR LLC's PLatform A, soource of the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill | Photo: doc searls/Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons License

After a media investigation revealed that federal regulators quietly approved at least four fracking projects off the Santa Barbara coast without environmental review, a national environmental group is calling for an immediate end to the practice.

"Oil companies are fracking California's beautiful coastal waters with dangerous chemicals, and federal officials seem barely aware of the dangers," said attorney Miyoko Sakashita, oceans program director for the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD). "We need an immediate halt to offshore fracking before chemical pollution or an oil spill poisons the whales and other wildlife that depend on California's rich coastal waters."

The publication TruthOut revealed Thursday that federal agencies gave permission in four separate instances for the oil company DCOR to start fracking in the Santa Barbara Channel without any environmental review.

According to TruthOut writer Mike Ludwig, regulators at the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) gave DCOR the go-ahead to start using fracking to boost production from four offshore wells starting in 2014. The permission was granted by BSEE in the form of -- in Ludwig's words -- "minor revisions to permits" that the agency granted a "categorical exclusion" from environmental review.

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The two ocean energy regulation agencies replaced the scandal-ridden Minerals Management Service in 2011.

On October 3, CBD notified BOEM and BSEE that the group intends to sue unless the agencies agree to rescind DCOR's fracking permits and conduct a full environmental assessment of fracking plans off the California coast.

DCOR operates 11 of California's 24 offshore oil rigs, including the infamous Platform A, which blew out in 1969 and caused the notorious Santa Barbara Oil Spill. The largest such spill in U.S. history at the time, that disaster has since been surpassed by the Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon spills. The platform was operated by Unocal at the time of the accident; DCOR acquired the platform in 2005.

According to CBD, the group's investigations have uncovered evidence that at least a dozen oil wells off the California coast have been fracked in the last three years.


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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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