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State lawmakers ask for offshore fracking probe

August 8, 2013

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A group of state lawmakers has asked the federal government to investigate hydraulic fracturing off the California coast where new oil leases have been banned since a disastrous oil spill in 1969.

Fracking has occurred in the Santa Barbara Channel at least 12 times since the late 1990s, and regulators earlier this year approved a new project, according to a recent report by The Associated Press, which obtained well permits and internal emails through the Freedom of Information Act.

The extent of fracking in the Pacific causes “extreme concern,” state lawmakers led by Democratic Assemblyman Das Williams said in the letter this week.

Unlike fracking on land, which has spurred efforts to prohibit or curtail the practice, fracking in federal waters has not received the same attention.

Offshore jobs, which are typically smaller than ones done onshore, involves the pumping of hundreds of thousands of gallons of salt water, sand and a mixture of chemicals beneath the seabed in an effort to squeeze new oil production from old wells.

Federal environmental regulators so far have exempted fracking fluids from the nation’s clean water laws, allowing companies to flush them into the sea without a separate environmental review, the AP found.

The California Coastal Commission said it had no idea until recently that ocean fracking was even happening and planned to ask oil companies in the future whether they intend to frack. Since the work occurs in federal waters, oversight falls to agencies in the Interior Department. But state coastal regulators have a say if an offshore project affects water quality.

The oil industry insists fracking is safe and does not harm the environment.

Despite the assurances, state lawmakers said they wanted greater scrutiny over the practice. Past fracks have occurred in the vast offshore oil fields of Southern California, site of the 1969 spill that released more than 3 million gallons of crude oil into the ocean, fouling beaches and killing birds and other wildlife.

“We are in the dark. It is very distressing,” said Democratic state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, who was among the lawmakers who signed the letter addressed to the Interior Department and Environmental Protection Agency.

On Thursday, Jackson and other state legislators petitioned the coastal commission to take a closer look at past permits and future offshore applications.

Interior Department spokeswoman Jessica Kershaw said the agency has received the letter and was reviewing it. The EPA said it would also review the letter and reiterated that it ensures that fluids used in oil drilling and production will not impact water quality.


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