EPA Permit Will Allow Frackers to Continue Dumping Chemicals into Pacific

fracking-map-350The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on January 10 announced a new requirement for oil and gas corporations to publicly report chemicals dumped directly into the ocean from offshore fracking (hydraulic fracturing) operations off the Southern California Coast, but the new procedure won’t stop them from continuing to pollute the ocean.

The notice, published in the Federal Register, announces the changes as part of a new permit for water pollution discharges from offshore oil and gas operations in federal waters off California. The reporting requirement will become effective March 1, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

The EPA action was spurred by an Freedom of Information Action request and subsequent investigation by the Associated Press and truthout.org revealing that fracking operations had been conducted over 200 times since 1990 in state and federal waters off the California coast.

The final National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) general permit for offshore oil and gas exploration, development and production facilities in Federal waters off the coast of Southern California will replace the 2004 permit.

The permit will cover 23 offshore petroleum production platforms, including those located in the Santa Barbara Channel and off of Points Arguello and Conception. “The permit authorizes no new offshore platforms in Southern California and is limited to regulating discharges from existing platforms,” according to a statement from the EPA.

“NPDES permits are needed to establish controls as well as monitoring and reporting requirements on discharges from these offshore facilities,” said Nahal Mogharabi, Public Affairs Specialist, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Mogharabi said the final permit is similar to the one issued in 2004, but now incorporates updated discharge controls and toxicity testing as well as new study requirements to evaluate the potential effects of cooling water intake structures on fish and larvae that may potentially get sucked up and harmed by equipment used at the platforms.

While most water discharges in California are regulated by the State Water Boards, discharges from facilities located more than three miles off the coast are permitted directly by U.S. EPA, Mogharabi stated.

Mogharabi also emphasized that the new requirement by the EPA is not a “rule,” as some press reports have stated.

“This is a Clean Water Act (NPDES) General Permit issuance. EPA generally provides public notice of issuance of General Permits through Federal Register Notice,” Mogharabi said.

Environmentalists were glad that EPA announced the new reporting requirement, but called on the federal government to go further and ban the environmentally destructive practice of fracking.

Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said, “Requiring oil companies to report the toxic fracking chemicals they’re dumping into California’s fragile ocean ecosystem is a good step, but the federal government must go further and halt this incredibly dangerous practice. Banning fracking in California’s coastal waters is the best way to protect the whales and other wildlife, as well as surfers and coastal communities. It’s outrageous that the EPA plans to continue allowing fracking pollution to endanger our ocean.”

She said the EPA revised the offshore oil and gas discharge permit to require reporting of the chemical formulations of any fracking fluids discharged by oil companies in response to the controversy generated by recent reports of fracking of oil and gas wells along the California coast.

“Approximately half the oil platforms in federal waters in the Santa Barbara Channel discharge all or a portion of their wastewater directly to the ocean, according to a California Coastal Commission document. This produced wastewater contains all of the chemicals injected originally into the fracked wells, with the addition of toxins gathered from the subsurface environment,” Sakashita said.

A recent Center analysis of 12 fracking operations in state waters found that at least one-third of chemicals used in these fracking operations are suspected ecological hazards. Drawing on data disclosed by oil companies, the Center also found that more than a third of these chemicals are suspected of affecting human developmental and nervous systems, according to Sakashita.

“The EPA’s new reporting requirements underscore how little is known about offshore fracking,” Sakashita said. “This risky practice has gone essentially unregulated. Until recently, no one even knew that our oceans were being fracked. To protect our coast, we need to stop this dangerous practice in its tracks.”

Not only does the new federal requirement allow oil companies to continue polluting, but the alleged “marine protected areas” created under California’s privately-funded Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative fail to protect the ocean from fracking, offshore oil drilling, pollution, military, wind and wave energy projects and all human impacts on the ocean other than fishing and gathering.

In one of the biggest conflicts of interest in California history, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the President of the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), chaired the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force to create so-called “marine protected areas” in Southern California waters. She also served on the MLPA Initiative task forces for the Central Coast, North Central Coast and North Coast. Reheis-Boyd is a relentless advocate for the expansion of fracking, the construction of the Keystone Pipeline and the evisceration of environmental laws.

The oil industry is the most powerful corporate lobby in Sacramento, so it is able to wield enormous influence over state and federal regulators and environmental processes. The result of this inordinate money and influence is the effective evisceration of the Marine Life Protection Act of 1999 during the MLPA Initiative process and the signing of Senator Fran Pavley’s Senate Bill 4, the green light for fracking bill, by Governor Jerry Brown on September 20, 2013.

dan bacher

A report recently released by the American Lung Association revealed that the oil industry lobby spent $45.4 million in the state between January 1 2009 and June 30, 2013. The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) alone has spent over $20 million since 2009 to lobby legislators.

Dan Bacher

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