The oil industry recently completed hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) operations for six more oil wells inside the boundary of the Los Padres National Forest, pumping thousands of gallons of known toxic chemicals into the ground without any public notice or environmental documentation. They are the twelfth and thirteenth oil wells to be fracked in this remote, environmentally sensitive area since June 2012.
During that same time period, 23 wells have been fracked throughout the entire tri-county area (Ventura, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo counties), according to the FracFocus website (a voluntary reporting site used by the oil industry). With more than half these fracks located in the Sespe Oil Field, the area has quickly become the epicenter of this controversial oil extraction technique throughout the entire central California coast.
“The Sespe Oil Field is now ground zero for fracking in our region,” said Jeff Kuyper, executive director of Los Padres ForestWatch, a nonprofit watchdog organization that monitors oil drilling in the Los Padres National Forest. “Unfortunately, this controversial drilling technique continues to be approved in one of the most ecologically sensitive areas of the forest, without any public notice and with few environmental safeguards in place to protect our communities’ water supplies.”
The wells are located in the Sespe Oil Field approximately six miles north of the town of Fillmore in Ventura County, and less than one mile from the boundary of the Sespe Condor Sanctuary, a 53,000-acre wildlife refuge that was established in 1947 to protect habitat for the critically endangered California condor. The area also lies within the watershed of Sespe Creek, which provides farms and communities downstream with a clean, reliable supply of water.
Combined, the six fracking operations in 2013 consumed nearly 4.75 million gallons of water, according to documents submitted to the California Department of Oil Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) and the FracFocus website. The fracking operations reportedly injected the following chemicals into underground formations:
polyquaternary amine salt
bentonite, benzyl (hydrogenated tallow alkyl) dimethylammonium stearate complex
bis-quaternary methacrylamide monomer
Many of these chemicals were listed as “confidential business information” and no additional information was provided on their chemical makeup.
The fracking operations concluded just as the federal Bureau of Land Management closed its official comment period on a proposal to regulate fracking on federal lands nationwide. The BLM received more than one million comments from the public, asking the agency to strengthen its draft regulations. Los Padres ForestWatch joined a letter signed by 36 local and national environmental organizations calling for stricter oversight, full disclosure of all chemicals, advance public notice, and thorough environmental review for any future fracking operations.
The fracking operations also coincided with the enactment of California’s first-ever law regulating the practice. On September 20, 2013, Governor Jerry Brown signed SB4, which requires the state Department of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Regulation (DOGGR) to issue regulations governing hydraulic fracturing statewide, and to conduct a study of the possible environmental impacts of fracking. The regulations and study must be finalized by 2015, and only apply to drilling and fracking operations on state land, not national forests and other federal land.
“These state regulations are a good first step towards safeguarding our water supplies and ensuring that we fully understand the consequences of fracking,” said Kuyper. “However, we still have a long way to go – until DOGGR issues these regulations and completes the study, fracking could continue in the Los Padres National Forest without any public notice or environmental analysis.”
Additionally, even with these state regulations in place, nearly half of the wells in the Sespe Oil Field will be exempt – the statewide regulations don’t apply to wells drilled on federal lands. Nearly half of the wells in the Sespe Oil Field are on federal forest land.
The recently-fracked wells are all owned by Seneca Resources, an oil company based in Houston, Texas that operates most wells in the Sespe Oil Field. The fracking operations were conducted by Halliburton.
ForestWatch will continue to participate in statewide and federal regulatory efforts, and will demand full disclosure of fracking chemicals and adequate safeguards to protect water quality and the environment. “Until these safeguards are fully in place and implemented, fracking should not be approved in the Sespe Oil Field,” said Kuyper.