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BY NATASHA GEILING JUN 1, 2016
The debate over fracking in California is about to get even more heated, following a report from two federal agencies that found that fracking for oil and gas in the ocean — known as offshore fracking — is unlikely to have a “significant” impact on the environment.
On Friday, both the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) jointly released an environmental study that looked at the impact of hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — on marine ecosystems. The report analyzed 23 offshore fracking operations that operated in California between 1982 and 2014, and found that the operations have a minimal impact on the quality of water and ocean health. To the fossil fuel industry, this signals a return to normalcy, as both the BOEM and BSEE will resume approval of offshore fracking permits that they had temporarily suspended while the environmental study was being conducted.
But for environmental groups, the report is a troubling development. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, oil companies have fracked at least 200 wells off the coast of California — and opponents of fracking worry that these operations could be putting both California wildlife, and California residents, at risk.
"Fracking is a really dirty and dangerous
practice that has no place in our ocean"
“I think it’s just absurd that the agency could look at the environmental of offshore fracking and make a finding that there is no significant environmental impact,” Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director for the Center for Biological Diversity, told ThinkProgress.
According to Sakashita, fracking companies are currently allowed to discharge 9 billion gallons of wastewater into the ocean each year — and that waste water can include toxic chemicals. There is no limit for the amount of chemicals that companies can discharge into the ocean, and companies are not required to disclose which chemicals they use in their operations.
Environmentalists worry that those chemicals could disrupt sensitive marine ecosystems and threaten ocean health. Nineteen of the 23 existing Pacific offshore fracking platforms in the Pacific are located in the Santa Barbara Channel, which is home to a wealth of marine life, including dolphins, sea lions, and Pacific grey whales. The coast of the Santa Barbara Channel was hit with a massive oil spill last year when a pipeline carrying crude from offshore platforms — some of which also had fracking operations — ruptured, spilling more than 105,000 gallons of crude oil along the beach.