All Fracked Up

Politicians Want Channel Drilling Techniques Investigated, but Who’s in Charge?

Thursday, August 15, 2013
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In the two weeks since Truthout revealed that the controversial oil-extraction practice known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, had been permitted for offshore rigs in the Santa Barbara Channel ​— ​news more broadly disseminated by the Associated Press a week later ​— ​many politicians are demanding that more extensive environmental reviews be required.

Santa Barbara’s State Assemblymember Das Williams was first to call for “greater scrutiny” in an August 6 letter to the Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency. That letter was signed by, among other Sacramento lawmakers, State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, who, on August 8, also sent a letter to the state’s Coastal Commission, which, she believes, “has a vital role to play in determining whether offshore fracking is in the best interests of our coastline.” And this week, Congressmember Lois Capps jumped into the discussion, as well, getting briefed by the related agency officials and requesting that they respond to the state legislators’ letters. “It is imperative that we fully understand the activities of oil and gas companies and how they impact our land, water, and public health,” said Capps. “Protecting our coastal waters has always been a top priority for me, and I will continue working on this issue so it is properly addressed.”

Along with other discoveries, Truthout’s report revealed recently permitted offshore hydraulic fracturing by the Ventura-based company DCOR, LLC, confirmed that Venoco, Inc. had done so in the past, and uncovered correspondence between regulatory officials wondering whether further reviews should be required. Since then, The Santa Barbara Independent has been in touch with an alphabet-soup-load of federal and state agencies to figure out who’s really in charge of what.

On a federal level, there are three main agencies involved. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) ​— ​one of the many federal agencies created when the Minerals Management Service was disbanded after the Deepwater Horizon disaster ​— ​is responsible for issuing offshore drilling leases and all of the big-picture environmental studies that are required to do so. But hydraulic fracturing doesn’t tend to get on the radar until an application to drill or to modify a drilling permit is filed.

Those go to the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE, pronounced “bessie”), which is home to the engineers who evaluate each proposed drilling operation for safety, environmental, geohazard, or other hazards, as well as the inspectors who make sure companies are following the rules. According to an agency official, BSEE has no plans to revamp its rules on hydraulic fracturing for offshore rigs, because, already, “each application is unique and receives a thorough examination.”

Charged with protecting water quality and upholding the Clean Water Act, the Environmental Protection Agency oversees what happens to substances when they get outside of a drilling operation, whether intentionally or otherwise. To do so, it issues National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits that, according to a statement, “are structured to ensure that all fluids used in the drilling and production process will not adversely impact water quality.” The EPA is currently reviewing its policies on how hydraulic fracturing affects drinking water across the country, but, like BSEE, is not actively reviewing offshore fracking policies on a separate track.

On a state level, where direct control only extends to three miles offshore, the State Lands Commission functions like BOEM, issuing leases for drilling operations, whereas the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR, pronounced “dogger”) acts like BSEE. DOGGR places a large emphasis on casing and cementing of wells to prevent spillage, and the requirements for offshore are “more stringent” than for onshore, according to the state’s oil and gas supervisor Tim Kustic. Meanwhile, DOGGR is also in the process of developing standards for the use of hydraulic fracturing all over California.

Where the state and federal worlds may collide is the California Coastal Commission, which is currently studying what jurisdiction they may or may not have. That’s according to Alison Dettmer, the commission’s deputy director for energy, ocean resources, and federal consistency, who said that there may be regulatory authority through the commission’s review of the EPA’s NPDES permits or perhaps through its federal consistency review of “outer continental shelf” plans. Nothing is yet clear, but the commission has started asking whether fracking will be used in any new onshore or offshore oil and gas projects. If it is, the applicants, said Dettmer, are asked “to submit an environmental analysis of the impacts of fracking on resources of the coastal zone.”


Independent Discussion Guidelines

Let's shoot millions of gallons of toxic brew mixed with fresh water down into the ground to fracture the rock beneath us in order to release gas so a select few can make millions (billions)! What a fantastic idea!

spacey (anonymous profile)
August 15, 2013 at 12:42 a.m. (Suggest removal)

It's funny that liberals accuse conservatives about being in denial about the science behind climate change, yet state unequivocally that fracking is unsafe without any credible scientific evidence to back it up.

Botany (anonymous profile)
August 15, 2013 at 6:12 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Shareholders make billions and some private oil companies make millions - but all because they bring trillions upon trillions of dollars of value to millions and millions of people. Our entire economy (except for your organic backyard lettuce patch that feeds 1/10th of 1 person's daily needs at 10x the cost of Ralph's) is based on petroleum.

We reward the people and companies that raise or maintain our stunning and incredibly good standard of living (as it has never been before in the history of everything - across all time - for this many people) by paying them a lot and making them rich.

willy88 (anonymous profile)
August 15, 2013 at 12:40 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Independent readers may find it helpful and informative to review a half-hour television interview with Chris Wrather and Bob Field discussing hydraulic fracturing ("fracking").

Included is video produced by The Ecologist.

William Smithers

bilwil (anonymous profile)
August 15, 2013 at 1:16 p.m. (Suggest removal)

It's funny that someone would accuse anyone of knowing nothing about something when the evidence out there is overwhelming if only someone would care to educate themself. But then, they choose to not believe the science they say they want to see. Only an insane person would risk anything by trusting oil companies.

spacey (anonymous profile)
August 15, 2013 at 2:19 p.m. (Suggest removal)

The taxpayers subsidize the oil companies to the tune of billions of dollars. If they were so adept at what they were doing - per free market standards - they would require no subsidies at all. I can think of lots of vocations that contribute enormously to our society but do not receive anywhere near the same compensation. Silly logic.

tabatha (anonymous profile)
August 15, 2013 at 5:36 p.m. (Suggest removal)

try responding to tabatha, Willy, eh? Further, there is precedent for a "windfall profits tax" on the petroleum industry: they're doing so fracking well, let's reinstitute such a tax. And you're so worried about the federal deficit (hey dude, it's shrinking!) we can apply these billions to that deficit. Happy?

DrDan (anonymous profile)
August 15, 2013 at 5:42 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I agree 100%. Zero corporate welfare.

In fact, zero welfare at all except for children, handicapped and very limited for able bodied adults.

Your windfall profits tax is harmful as it will simply be passed along to consumers, including poor people, who will pay higher prices at the pump - while the tax will be used to fund:
- massive foreign wars, secret and otherwise
- prop up an out of control military industrial complex
- massive expansion of government union worker head count, bureaucracy and inefficient programs.

willy88 (anonymous profile)
August 15, 2013 at 10:23 p.m. (Suggest removal)

uh, this ain't "agree 100%" willy88... your contradictions are awesome: I wanted a windfall profits tax on petroleum industry (which we have done before!), but you say "your windfall profits tax is harmful" and give several reasons why.
Try to proofread your stuff, maybe have the wife go over it before you post: you make no sense.
But then, typical conservative.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
August 16, 2013 at 8:52 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Industry docs say up to 5% of well casing fail within first year & up 60% fail within 30 years.

Fracking a single well takes10's of 1000'sof gallons of water.Plan is drilling 100's of thousands of new wells across the nation.Thats an insane amount of water-needed to irrigate crops & meet drinking demand.

FromUSGS &US Army: high pressure injection of frack waste water creates smallearthquakes,&thats in areas that aren't already seismically active. Here in CA, we are already& fools to speed the process. Smaller quakes make it more likely that big one occurs sooner.

Last week news broke EPA deemed Dimock's water safe despite warnings from agency staffers several wells had been contaminated w/ methane & substances such as manganese and arsenic, most likely ';cause of local natural gas production.Same 4 two other high-profile drilling pollution Parker County,Texas,&Pavillion, Wyo.

Yes we benefited enormously for ff.Bu also failed to calculate in the hidden costs in process. EPA researchers report that accounting for human health impacts of fossil fuels electricity (costs associated with premature deaths, medical visits, hospitalizations, medication, & reduced activity, including working days lost) add average of 14 to 35 cents per kilowatt-hour to the retail cost of electricity.Nationwide, hidden health costs add up to as much as $886.5 billion annually, or 6% of GDP. These may nullify any temporary job creation or private investment created by fossil fuel industry. See more costs of fossil-fuel reliance:

The solution;developing markets for renewable distributed generation (DG). Wind turbines&rooftop solar PV will provide permanent job creation and long-term private investment. Generating energy from smaller-scale, decentralized facilities provides local economic benefits, and avoids the expensive, inefficient long-distance transmission of energy. Lastly, shifting towards increased distributed renewable generation enhances energy security and grid reliability, and massively reduces GHG emissions.

Not a technological problem -it's about political will;here a solid the feasibility study NY:
the general summation of that study for public here

The study came under attack , &Standford team came back with a "blistering rebuttal" and showed major weaknesses in the critique &defended the feasibility study beautifully:

It's immoral NOT to transition off dangerous fossil fuels when we have these options.

Reality check on how drilling is actually impacting communities economically :

morgainele (anonymous profile)
August 16, 2013 at 2:53 p.m. (Suggest removal)

It's funny how folks like Willy and Botany get their noses all out of joint over the costs of developing alternative energy sources. It's those " damn socialists stealing My money to fund pipe dreams" they say.
I look forward to the day when the WillyBots will recognize that a company like SCE , coming to us for decommissioning costs @ San Onofre is real socialism. That is just one of the current examples . There are scores of other examples where we the people are left holding the bag after the fat cats have done their nasty deeds.

geeber (anonymous profile)
August 17, 2013 at 3:06 p.m. (Suggest removal)

The one thing we should agree on is that there shouldn't be any corporate welfare of any kind. Just as the oil co's shouldn't receive and handouts or special benefits, neither should other forms of energy. And when you mean the taxpayer gets left holding the bag, you mean cases like Solyndra, right?

Botany (anonymous profile)
August 17, 2013 at 3:27 p.m. (Suggest removal)

yes! corporate socialism to be exact! doesn't SCE now want $4.1 billion from the rate payers?!

DrDan (anonymous profile)
August 17, 2013 at 4:03 p.m. (Suggest removal)

and geeber,on the left-handed thread, why doesn't it bug you that the fat-cats over in 'Cito are pushing CalTrans and the best engineering around for their own interests?? tell me over there

DrDan (anonymous profile)
August 17, 2013 at 4:05 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Somebody with an ax to grind produced a movie about hydraulic fracturing and that becomes the sum total of a lot of voters' knowledge of the subject. We live in a weird society where whoever makes a movie wins elections. Those who react to such films are not leaders. The fact is that our water wells are about 500 feet deep, and our oil wells are about 4 miles deep, so there is no possibility of any contact between them. The chemicals used are benign, and disburse. Besides, there are more harmful chemicals per acre in peoples' garages and under their kitchen sinks than are used in the oil fields or in farming.

PD12345 (anonymous profile)
August 17, 2013 at 5:02 p.m. (Suggest removal)

typical 'you don't know anything' argument PD D2 or is it P3PO? Robot anyway you look at it. Speakin' of robots, Solyndra, really, still? Pittance compared to oil socialism and the most recent spills and damage done by spills in this country and Canada in the last few months.

spacey (anonymous profile)
August 18, 2013 at 11:50 a.m. (Suggest removal)

the chemicals used certainly are not all benign!! "They disburse..." eh...and that's all you got.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
August 18, 2013 at 1 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Yes, Dan, you're right. And that's the only proven contamination has been from surface spills of these chemicals, not from the fracking process itself.

Botany (anonymous profile)
August 18, 2013 at 9:45 p.m. (Suggest removal)

The fracking process includes oil bubbling up to the surface too, on land, rivers, sink holes.

spacey (anonymous profile)
August 19, 2013 at 1:28 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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