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California Coastal Commission Urged to Protect Coast from Offshore Fracking

New Research Reveals 12 Recent Frack Jobs on Oil Wells in State Waters; Conservationists Call for Investigation, Moratorium


Monday, August 26, 2013
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At least a dozen offshore oil wells in California state waters have been fracked in the past three years, apparently without legally mandated review under the California Environmental Quality Act, according to new research. This new revelation doubles the number of known offshore frack jobs, putting additional pressure on the California Coastal Commission to take strong action to control offshore fracking when it meets Thursday in Santa Cruz.

In a joint letter to the Coastal Commission, the Center for Biological Diversity, Environmental Defense Center and Surfrider Foundation urge commissioners to launch an investigation into the use of the controversial process in California waters. The letter also cites records showing that offshore fracking in California employs dangerous substances, including 2-Butoxyethanol, methanol and other cancer-causing chemicals.

“Offshore fracking poses a deadly threat to California’s fragile marine environment,” said Miyoko Sakashita, the Center for Biological Diversity’s oceans program director. “This dangerous practice is being used in our oceans with very little government knowledge or oversight. The best way for the Coastal Commission to protect our water and wildlife is to call an immediate time-out on offshore fracking.”

“Environmental groups are calling on the California Coastal Commission to exercise its oversight and protect our coast from the harmful practice of fracking,” announced Brian Segee, staff attorney for the Environmental Defense Center. The Environmental Defense Center submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the federal government, which revealed numerous previously undisclosed fracking operations taking place on offshore oil and gas platforms. “The state and the public need to know about fracking before it occurs, and have an opportunity to voice their concerns,” said Segee. Segee noted that “the Coastal Commission has the right to review, and even object to, proposals to frack offshore if such operations may harm state coastal resources.”

“It’s utterly baffling that fracking has occurred in state and federal waters without regulators being aware,” said Stefanie Sekich-Quinn, policy manager for the Surfrider Foundation. “What’s even more inexcusable is that some fracking fluids were discharged directly into the ocean without any scientific understanding of how these chemicals impact ocean ecosystems,” said Sekich. “Government officials are asleep at the wheel, and it’s time for them to wake up and uphold laws that protect our ocean and coasts.”

Fracking involves blasting massive amounts of water and industrial chemicals, mixed with sand, into the earth at pressures high enough to crack apart geologic formations and release oil and gas.

Revelations about fracking in state waters, which are drawn from the Center for Biological Diversity’s analysis of state records and the industry website FracFocus.org, show that fracking off California’s coast is growing. Earlier this month, the Environmental Defense Center and journalists broke the story that oil companies have fracked at least 12 offshore wells in federal waters in the Santa Barbara Channel, where a 1969 oil spill polluted California’s ocean and beaches with millions of gallons of oil.

California oil and gas officials don’t yet regulate or even track fracking — onshore or offshore — in spite of its links to water and air pollution in other states. Federal officials who oversee oil production in federal waters are relying on outdated environmental analyses that do not consider the dangers of new fracking techniques. Federal officials can’t even say how often fracking has happened in California’s coastal waters.

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.

Water contamination is a particular hazard with fracking because hundreds of toxic chemicals are used in fracking fluid. One scientific study found that 25 percent of fracking chemicals could cause cancer and mutations. While fracking’s harm to wildlife has received less study, the chemicals it uses clearly pose a threat to California’s marine life.

“What’s truly scary is how little government officials seem to know about offshore fracking,” Sakashita said. “No one at the state or federal level really has a handle on where this risky process is being used or what dangerous chemicals are being pumped into our oceans. But we do know that offshore fracking increases California’s risk of a devastating oil spill or release of toxic fracking fluid.”

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This story was poorly researched and it full of misinformation. Whoever wrote it, has no clue how to access public records. I found 59 wells have been fracked offshore California, and all of the those have been done with the knowledge and permission of the State of California, and in most cases the Federal government also. Permits were required. Nothing was done without government regulation and consent. The claim that this was done without government supervision is simply evidence of how poorly this article was researched.

Pretending to name dangerous chemicals is another set of misinformation. Methanol is common wood alcohol, often used as windshield wiper fluid, furniture polish, and spray paint. 2-Butoxyethanol is a form of antifreeze (ethylene glycol found in car radiators), and is commonly used as an oil spill dispersant, along with being used to clean white boards and in many home cleaning products found at the grocery store. "Other cancer-causing chemicals" is simply there to create a bogeyman, with no factual information provided to support the claim.

This article, first reported by the AP is not journalism, it is hyperbole. I would not be able to find the records of these 59 fracked wells on the public records if the state and federal regulators did not allow and approve the fracking. Otherwise, the record would not exist, since the only source I have is in government records which are available to all. No Freedom of Information Act request is required to find this information as was originally reported. The ignorance of government regulations and reporting requirements simply demonstrates the lack of understanding of this issue by these reporters. If fracking was a big problem offshore California it would have shown up decades ago when fracking offshore first started. I fail to see how there is any evidence that these agencies have violated CEQA. They have duly reviewed the permits as indicated by their permits as issued and no environmental problems have resulted after decades of this activity. This appears to be a red herring designed to mislead the public by people with a political agenda (and a financial agenda as well) by creating a fallacious crisis.

diver (anonymous profile)
August 27, 2013 at 1:12 p.m. (Suggest removal)

This story is a press release, not a news article.

Matt (Matt Kettmann)
August 27, 2013 at 1:58 p.m. (Suggest removal)

By chance, will the Indy publish any press releases with opposing viewpoints?

Botany (anonymous profile)
August 28, 2013 at 9:38 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Looks like EDF couldn't get the oil companies in bed with them as they did with Plains Exploration and Production over slant drilling.

fdrouillard (anonymous profile)
August 28, 2013 at 12:09 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Methanol has a high toxicity in humans. If as little as 10 mL of pure methanol is ingested, for example, it can break down into formic acid, which can cause permanent blindness by destruction of the optic nerve, and 30 mL is potentially fatal,[18] although the median lethal dose is typically 100 mL (4 fl oz) (i.e. 1–2 mL/kg body weight of pure methanol[19]). Reference dose for methanol is 0.5 mg/kg/day.[20] Toxic effects take hours to start, and effective antidotes can often prevent permanent damage.[18] Because of its similarities in both appearance and odor to ethanol (the alcohol in beverages), it is difficult to differentiate between the two (such is also the case with denatured alcohol).

Methanol is toxic by two mechanisms. First, methanol (whether it enters the body by ingestion, inhalation, or absorption through the skin) can be fatal due to its CNS depressant properties in the same manner as ethanol poisoning. Second, in a process of toxication, it is metabolized to formic acid (which is present as the formate ion) via formaldehyde in a process initiated by the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase in the liver.[22] Methanol is converted to formaldehyde via alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) and formaldehyde is converted to formic acid (formate) via aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH). The conversion to formate via ALDH proceeds completely, with no detectable formaldehyde remaining.[23] Formate is toxic because it inhibits mitochondrial cytochrome c oxidase, causing the symptoms of hypoxia at the cellular level, and also causing metabolic acidosis, among a variety of other metabolic disturbances.[24]

Methanol poisoning can be treated with the antidotes ethanol or fomepizole.[22][25][26] Both drugs act to reduce the action of alcohol dehydrogenase on methanol by means of competitive inhibition, so it is excreted by the kidneys rather than being transformed into toxic metabolites.[22] Further treatment may include giving sodium bicarbonate for metabolic acidosis, and hemodialysis or hemodiafiltration can be used to remove methanol and formate from the blood.[22] Folinic acid or folic acid is also administered to enhance the metabolism of formate.[22]

The toxic effects of methanol were poorly researched.

tabatha (anonymous profile)
August 28, 2013 at 4:59 p.m. (Suggest removal)

To answer Botany: We publish pretty much every press release sent to us that has relevance to Santa Barbara.

Matt (Matt Kettmann)
August 29, 2013 at 2:37 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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