A national environmental group on October 3 accused the federal government of violating a key national environmental law by allowing offshore fracking (hydraulic fracturing) in waters off California’s coast without analyzing the risks to human health and endangered marine species.
The Center for Biological Diversity filed a notice letter with two federal agencies in charge of regulating offshore oil development, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement. The group plans legal action if the government fails to act.
A media investigation by the Associated Press and truthout.org recently revealed that oil companies are fracking in federal waters in the fish and wildlife-rich Santa Barbara Channel, where a 1969 oil spill polluted coastal waters and beaches with millions of gallons of oil. “Federal officials cannot even say how often fracking has happened in California’s offshore waters,” a news release from the Center said.
The notice was filed in the wake of Governor Jerry Brown’s signing of Senator Fran Pavley’s Senate Bill 4, a controversial law that gives the green light to fracking in Monterey Shale deposits in Kern County and coastal areas. Over 100 environmental and consumer groups, including Food and Water Watch, the California Water Impact Network (C-WIN), the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity, opposed the legislation.
Catherine Reheis-Boyd, President of the Western States Petroleum Association, led the charge to gut the already weak bill with oil industry-friendly amendments. Ironically, the same Reheis Boyd chaired the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force to create alleged “marine protected areas” in Southern California, as well as serving on the task forces for the Central Coast, North Central Coast and North Coast.
“Oil companies are fracking California’s beautiful coastal waters with dangerous chemicals, and federal officials seem barely aware of the dangers,” said Miyoko Sakashita, an attorney and director of the Center’s oceans program. “We need an immediate halt to offshore fracking before chemical pollution or an oil spill poisons the whales and other wildlife that depend on California’s rich coastal waters.”
The Center’s notice letter seeks to compel the two federal agencies to suspend any operations involving hydraulic fracturing off California’s coast and conduct a full National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis of fracking pollution’s threats to environment and to wildlife in the area, renowned for hosting the world’s densest summer concentrations of blue whales.
“Despite the federal shutdown, the bureaus will continue many operations, including processing development plans and applications for drilling permits,” according to Sakashita.
She said a Center legal team recently won a landmark lawsuit that halted fracking and drilling on thousands of acres of federally managed onshore public lands in California. A federal court ruled that the federal government violated NEPA by leasing onshore public lands for oil and gas development without adequately reviewing the risks of fracking, and offshore permit approvals suffer from the same legal deficiency.
“At least a dozen offshore oil wells in California state waters have also been fracked in the past three years, according to records uncovered by the Center. These records show that offshore fracking in California employs dangerous substances, including 2-Butoxyethanol, methanol and other cancer-causing chemicals,” the Center disclosed.
“During offshore fracking, a significant amount of fracking fluid returns to the surface and is either discharged into the ocean or transported for onshore ground injection. At sea, these chemicals enter the marine ecosystem and threaten marine life and sensitive habitats,” the Center said.
One scientific study found that 25 percent of fracking chemicals could cause cancer and mutations. Another joint peer-reviewed study by the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released on August 28 also revealed that hydraulic fracturing fluids were the likely cause of the widespread death or distress of aquatic species in Kentucky’s Acorn Fork, including endangered blackside dace, after spilling from nearby natural gas well sites
Big Oil, California’s biggest corporate lobbyThe recent revelation that California’s coastal waters are being “fracked” takes place in the larger context of the oil industry’s enormous influence on California environmental processes. The oil industry, now the most powerful corporate lobby in Sacramento, exceeds corporate agribusiness, the computer and software industry, the film and television industry, the aerospace industry and other major corporate players in California politics in the power that it wields.
The association now has enormous influence over both state and federal regulators. Oil and gas companies spend more than $100 million a year to buy access to lawmakers in Washington and Sacramento, according to Stop Fooling California, an online and social media public education and awareness campaign that highlights oil companies’ efforts to mislead and confuse Californians. The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) alone has spent more than $16 million lobbying in Sacramento since 2009.
The association spent the most of any organization in first six months of 2013, $2,308,789.95, to lobby legislators and other state officials, according to documents filed with the California Secretary of State.
Robert Gammon, East Bay Express reporter, revealed that before Governor Jerry Brown signed Senator Fran Pavley’s Senate Bill 4, Brown accepted at least $2.49 million in financial donations over the past several years from oil and natural gas interests, according to public records on file with the Secretary of State’s Office and the California Fair Political Practices Commission.
“Of the total, $770,000 went to Brown’s two Oakland charter schools — the Oakland School for the Arts and the Oakland Military Institute,” said Gammon “The other $1.72 million went to his statewide political campaigns for attorney general and governor, along with his Proposition 30 ballot-measure campaign last year.”
The oil industry not only exerts influence by direct contributions to political campaigns, but by getting its lobbyists and representatives on key panels like the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Blue Ribbon Task Force.
Head oil lobbyist chaired marine protected area panelInexplicably, reporters from the mainstream media and most of the “alternative” media, in their reporting on fracking, the oil industry and the network of so-called “marine protected areas” created under the MLPA Initiative, have failed to mention a crucial component of the industry’s influence on California politics – how the head oil industry lobbyist, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, President of the Western States Petroleum Association, oversaw what passes for “marine protection” in California.
I’m puzzled as to why these reporters omit any reference to one of the biggest environmental scandals of the past decade, one that has a direct bearing on the fracking of California – the fact that Reheis-Boyd served as chair of the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force to create alleged “marine protected areas” in Southern California. She also served on the North Coast, North Central Coast and Central Coast task forces from 2004 to 2011, from the beginning of the process to the end of the process.
Why don’t these publications acknowledge that Reheis-Boyd served as a state official in a process that created fake “marine protected areas” that fail to protect the ocean from fracking, oil drilling, pollution, wind and wave energy projects and all human impacts on the ocean other than fishing and gathering? If this isn’t a major conflict of interest, I don’t know what is!
State officials and representatives of corporate “environmental” NGOs embraced the leadership of Reheis-Boyd and other corporate operatives who served on the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Forces to create “marine protected areas” that fail to actually protect the ocean. By backing her leadership as a “marine guardian,” they helped to increase the influence of the Western States Petroleum Association, the most powerful corporate lobbying group in Sacramento.
The California Coastal Commission and other state officials acted “surprised” when FOIA documents revealed that Southern California coastal waters have been fracked at least 12 times – after the proverbial fox was guarding the hen house. Well, independent investigative reporters like David Gurney and myself warned, again and again, that this would happen when an oil industry lobbyist was in charge of marine “protection.”
Why are both the mainstream media and much of the “alternative” media so afraid to even mention one of the biggest, most explosive environmental conflict-of-interest scandals of the past decade in California? Something is very, very wrong here.
For more information about the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative, go here.
Not only did Governor Jerry Brown recently sign legislation clearing the path to the fracking of California, but he is rushing the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) to build the twin tunnels to export massive quantities of water for use by corporate agribusiness, developers, water marketers and the oil industry. The peripheral tunnels would hasten the extinction of Central Valley Chinook salmon and steelhead, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, green sturgeon and other fish species, as well as threaten salmon and steelhead populations on the Klamath and Trinity rivers.
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