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Fracking Fracas in Court

Environmental Law Group Sues Federal Agency Over S.B. Channel Drilling Permits


The Environmental Defense Center (EDC) filed a lawsuit in federal court on Wednesday alleging that the oversight agency known as the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) hastily approved 51 oil drilling permits to allow acidizing and fracking from six offshore oil platforms in the Santa Barbara Channel.

Most permits were issued in the last 18 months, and the lawsuit states the federal agency failed to adhere to the public process and complete environmental impact analyses for the applications. More than a dozen cases of fracking from platforms were occurring within the channel at the time, according to a report published by the EDC last year, but the environmental watchdogs knew very little about where or how often the high-intensity drilling took place.

The lawsuit alleges that for the 51 applications, the environmental impact statement was merely two pages long or not completed at all. Of the permits, 19 were applications to drill, which require the bureau to prepare an environmental impact statement and circulate it to the public. However, BSEE rubber-stamped the 19 drilling applications by way of “categorical exclusions,” which should only be used when the agency has determined the impacts are insignificant after studying them, the lawsuit claims. Even worse, the suit goes on, the agency prepared no environmental impact statements at all for the 32 permit modifications. BSEE spokesperson Julia Hagan said she could not comment on pending litigation.

EDC Senior Attorney Brian Segee further contends the chemicals associated with fracking are some of the most dangerous fluids utilized in an industrial process, adding that many of the chemicals are undisclosed due to “trade secret” laws. Segee added that there has been “absolutely no transparency at all” in the process, and that the center had to submit Freedom of Information Acts (FOIA) requests to get information.

In a separate matter, the Center for Biological Diversity filed on Thursday a notice of intent to sue the BSEE, claiming the agency and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) allowed oil companies to frack at least 21 times from federal platforms without appropriately analyzing the environmental impacts. The notice further contends the oil company failed to describe or even mention fracking in their plans to drill, and therefore the California Coastal Commission was not able to ensure the plans were consistent with the state’s Coastal Management Program. “That’s basically a violation itself,” said Miyoko Sakashita, a San Francisco-based attorney representing the center in the case. It was not until last year, Sakashita went on, that anyone even knew fracking was happening offshore.

Referring to the EDC lawsuit filed Wednesday, Sakashita said, “I think it shows that lots of groups and people share the concern that fracking occurs. Federal agencies come in and rubber-stamp it without doing the right environmental review when, really, they should not be allowing fracking at all. [It] should not be happening off the coast.”

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