AG Kamala D. Harris, California Coastal Commission File Lawsuit Challenging Fracking Off California Coastline by Office of the Attorney General, December 19, 2016
LOS ANGELES, December 19, 2016 – Attorney General Kamala D. Harris and the California Coastal Commission today filed a lawsuit challenging the U.S. Department of the Interior’s final environmental assessment, which clears the way for hydraulic fracturing (fracking), acidizing, and other advanced well treatments on the Pacific Outer Continental Shelf off the coast of California. In addition to extending our reliance on fossil fuels, research links these types of well stimulation treatments with increased water and air pollution, as well as the potential to harm marine life.
“We must take every possible step to protect our precious coastline and ocean,” said Attorney General Harris. “The U.S. Department of Interior’s inadequate environmental assessment would open the door to practices like fracking that may pose a threat to the health and well-being of California communities. We must balance our energy needs with our longstanding commitment to protecting our natural resources and public health.”
In 2013, it came to light that advanced well treatments were being used off California’s coastline, prompting two environmental organizations to file lawsuits challenging the use of fracking and acidizing off-shore without adequate environmental review.
The U.S. Department of the Interior’s environmental assessment, issued in May 2016, found that fracking poses “no significant impact.” This assessment runs contrary to substantial evidence in the record identifying significant environmental effects from fracking, as well as numerous other unique risks posed by offshore fracking. The Department of Interior’s failure to adequately consider these, and other, concerns associated with fracking off California’s coastline prompted the Attorney General to file this lawsuit alleging violations of federal environmental protection laws.
Among those who formally expressed grave concerns about the coastal fracking proposal are the California Coastal Commission and three members of Congress from California, Lois Capps (CA-24), Sam Farr (CA-20) and Jared Huffman (CA-2). In addition, 11 state legislators urged the continuation of the moratorium on offshore advanced well treatments “until a more comprehensive evaluation focused on impacts to marine life, ecosystems, and coastal communities is completed.”
The Attorney General’s complaint, filed today in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, alleges that in issuing this environmental assessment and finding no significant impact the Department of the Interior violated the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act and the Coastal Zone Management Act.
The California Attorney General has long been involved in efforts to protect the state’s resources from negative environmental and public health impacts of oil and gas production.
… Earlier this year, Attorney General Harris, 8 other states, and the city of Chicago filed a motion to intervene in support of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) New Source Performance Standards to limit greenhouse gas emissions, specifically methane, from oil and natural gas operations. The new EPA standards mark the first time the EPA has directly limited greenhouse gases from the oil and natural gas sector and tightens existing limits on emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from oil and natural gas operations.
In November 2015, Attorney General Harris and 17 other state Attorneys General filed a motion to intervene in support of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, the EPA’s first-ever national standards to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
Attorney General Harris has vigorously defended AB 32, California’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, which has received global recognition as a leading example of legislation that promotes reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. The Attorney General’s office has also defended challenges to California’s cap and trade auctions and its precedent-setting Low Carbon Fuels Standard. [Emphasis added]
California sues to block offshore oil fracking by Grace Wyler and Joshua Cain, Dec. 19, 2016, The Orange County Register
California Attorney General Kamala Harris filed suit Monday to block oil fracking off the coast of California.
… The suit argues that the U.S. Department of the Interior and two of its agencies, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, failed to fully analyze and disclose the potential environmental risks of new offshore drilling processes like hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, and acidization. Both practices rely more on hazardous chemicals than do traditional extraction methods.
“The U.S. Department of Interior’s inadequate environmental assessment would open the door to practices like fracking that may pose a threat to the health and well-being of California communities,” Harris said Monday. “We must balance our energy needs with our longstanding commitment to protecting our natural resources and public health.”
The Department of the Interior declined to comment on the filing.
The challenge is the latest development in a long-running battle over offshore drilling in California, and it comes as the state prepares for potentially looser environmental regulations in the coming Trump administration.
There are at least 43 active federal oil and gas leases off the coast of Southern California, including 22 production platforms located in the federally-managed waters between Long Beach and Santa Barbara. Last year, drillers pulled up 11.5 million barrels of crude oil from those leases, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
That’s a trickle of what California’s production was at its peak in the 1990s, when state lawmakers began to enforce moratoriums that slowed down the flow of oil. Some companies operating off the coast want to use new drilling techniques to coax more oil out of aging wells.
Fracking already has been used locally, but on a limited basis.
In the waters off the coast of Long Beach, Seal Beach, and Huntington Beach, oil companies have used fracking at least 200 times in the last two decades. Drilling operators have also fracked at sites in the Santa Barbara Channel.
Among the companies looking to use fracking are DCOR LLC, a Ventura-based offshore oil and gas driller. The Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group based in Oakland and Santa Barbara, said last week that the company wanted to frack one well in the Santa Barbara Channel. DCOR also has leases off the coast of Los Angeles and Orange counties.
Monday’s complaint seeks to reimpose a fracking ban that the Department of the Interior put on new drilling leases off the coast of Southern California. That deal was part of a settlement with environmental groups that alleged the federal government had illegally failed to study the health and environmental dangers associated with fracking. The moratorium was lifted in May, when federal agencies released a report that said fracking and other drilling processes would not have a significant impact on Southern California’s coastal environment.
“This is a major development in the fight to protect our ocean from toxic chemicals or another oil spill,” said Kristen Monsell, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, referencing the complaint filed Monday.
“It’s wonderful to see state officials standing up to the oil industry.”
The attorney general’s complaint comes as California Democratic lawmakers attempt to shore up the state’s environmental protections in advance of the incoming administration of president-elect Donald Trump.
In a letter to President Barack Obama last week, California Gov. Jerry Brown requested a permanent federal ban on new offshore drilling off the coast of California. Federal and state lawmakers have echoed those sentiments, and called for an executive order imposing a permanent moratorium on oil and gas exploration off the West Coast.
“California is blessed with hundreds of miles of spectacular coastline, home to scenic state parks, beautiful beaches, abundant wildlife and thriving communities,” Brown wrote.
“Clearly, large new oil and gas reserves would be inconsistent with our overriding imperative to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and combat the devastating impacts of climate change.” [Emphasis added]
California officials sue feds over offshore fracking by Associated Press, Dec. 19, 2016, Toledo Blade
LOS ANGELES — State Attorney General Kamala Harris and the California Coastal Commission today filed a lawsuit challenging the federal government’s recent finding that fracking off the state’s coast has no significant environmental impact.
The lawsuit filed in federal court in Los Angeles says the Department of Interior failed to take a hard look at the potential environmental effects of the 22 offshore oil platforms that have used techniques including acid and hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking, to stimulate production. The lawsuit says that failure is a violation of the National Environmental Policy Act.
“We must take every possible step to protect our precious coastline and ocean,” said Harris, who is in her last weeks as attorney general before heading to the U.S. Senate.
A message left with a Department of Interior spokeswoman seeking comment on the lawsuit was not immediately returned.
Oil drillers have used the methods for years in federal waters on the Pacific Outer Continental Shelf, which begins about three miles off the coast of California.
But last year a pair of environmental groups learned about them through a federal records request and sued, reaching a settlement in January with the federal government, which agreed to suspend fracking and do a new environmental assessment. [What good ever comes from settling lawsuits relating to the oil and gas industry except protect the oil and gas industry?]
The government returned in late May with a report that found “no significant impact” to the safety of water or marine life from the drilling methods. today’s lawsuit challenges that assessment, and it demands a more extensive evaluation.
Coastal Commission Acting Executive Director Jack Ainsworth said that ecological damage to the coast poses economic risks that could be worse than bringing an end to fracking.
“Our coastal economies contribute $40 billion annually to the state’s economy,” Ainsworth said. “We can’t afford to risk that for short-term profits.” [Emphasis added]