Environmental group and congresswoman want to halt California offshore hydraulic fracturing operations

In October, the Associated Press reported that hydraulic fracturing activities off the coast of California were more extensive than previously thought. Interviews and public records revealed that oil companies had used fracking more than 200 times at six different sites over the last 20 years near Long Beach, Seal Beach and Huntington Beach.

The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), an environmental activist group, took up the issue of offshore fracking and urged a moratorium on these activities in an October 3, 2013 letter addressed to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and to the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, Pacific Region. See prior blog dated October 14, 2013, “Environmental Group Urges Moratorium on California Offshore Hydraulic Fracturing Operations.”

According to the CBD, without a supplemental National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)review, these operations violate NEPA, the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act and other environmental statutes. Continuing its efforts to stop offshore fracking operations, the CBD sent a letter dated November 14, 2013 to the California Coastal Commission requesting that it “take immediate action to halt hydraulic fracturing and other unconventional techniques for extracting oil and gas off the California coast.”

Representative Lois Capps (D-Calif.) has now requested a moratorium on California offshore fracking activities. In a letter dated November 19, 2013, she asked the Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency to halt these operations in federal waters “until a comprehensive study of their impacts on the marine environment and public health is conducted and considered.” According to Rep. Capps, there have been at least 15 fracking operations performed at wells in federal waters off California since the early 1990s, with some of these fracks occurring- near the National Marine Sanctuary and other sensitive marine areas.

These offshore activities need to be in compliance with regulations under the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Rep. Capps asserts that these operations were “approved with overly broad and outdated plans” that do not adequately assess the current offshore environmental risks. "There is a great deal we do not yet know about the environmental and public health impacts of fracking onshore, let alone offshore.”

This post was written by Barclay Nicholson (barclay.nicholson@nortonrosefulbright.com or 713.651.3662) from Norton Rose Fulbright's Energy Practice Group.