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No Significant Impact From Well Stimulation -- Fracturing -- Offshore California, Says Interior

An environmental assessment has found no significant impact from using specific well stimulation treatments, such as hydraulic fracturing, in oil and gas activities offshore California, the Department of Interior said Friday.

Interior's Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) completed an environmental analysis (EA) to evaluate potential impacts from using well stimulation treatments on the 23 oil and gas platforms currently in operation on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) offshore California. Based on the analysis in this joint programmatic EA, BSEE and BOEM issued a finding of no significant impact.

"Drawing on the best available science, the EA provides information and analysis on the use of well stimulation treatments in federal waters offshore California," BOEM Director Abigail Ross Hopper said. "The comprehensive analysis shows that these practices, conducted according to permit requirements, have minimal impact."

The EA was required to be completed by the end of May under a settlement agreement finalized in February between Interior and some conservation groups (see Daily GPIFeb. 2, 2016).

The programmatic EA evaluated several categories of treatments, including fracturing, a range of alternatives and all environmental resources that potentially could be impacted and found no significant environmental impacts associated with any of the alternatives considered. The EA will provide BSEE's Pacific Region information for processing future permits involving well stimulation treatments.

According to Interior, 24 well stimulation treatments, 21 that involved fracturing, were performed on the OCS offshore California between 1982 and 2014 on four platforms.

"Reservoirs on the OCS off Southern California tend to be much more permeable than onshore reservoirs, and are already highly naturally fractured," Interior said. "Therefore, little permeability enhancement has been required for their development." Future well stimulation treatment is expected to be "occasional" rather than "essential" to hydrocarbon production.

The resource areas evaluated in the offshore environment include water quality impacts from discharges of produced water and the potential for associated impacts to fish and wildlife.

"Considering the low expected concentrations of well stimulation treatment chemicals and the protective nature of the Environmental Protection Agency's National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System general permit and required monitoring of aquatic life, the analysis in the EA affirms that wastewater discharges from proposed well stimulation activities will not have a significant impact on the environment," Interior said. "Accidental releases of well stimulation treatment fluids have a relatively higher potential to cause impacts, but the probability of an accident occurring and the reasonably foreseeable size of a resulting release are so small that such accidents would not be expected to cause a significant impact."

BSEE and BOEM received more than 10,000 comments on the draft assessment during the 30-day public comment period that ended in March. After reviewing the comments, the agencies revised the text of the final EA as appropriate, which included amending the statement of purpose and need, clarifying descriptions of alternatives and adding information on greenhouse gases and climate change.

"BSEE is fully committed to safeguarding the environment," said BSEE Director Brian Salerno. "Anyone familiar with our regulations understands that they not only address worker and operational safety, but also require the industry to function as environmental stewards. We consider vigorous environmental enforcement central to the bureau's mission."

The EA was conducted as part of settlement agreements to resolve lawsuits regarding federal compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act, Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act and Coastal Zone Management Act. Pending completion of the EA, BSEE agreed to withhold approvals of future applications for permits to drill and permit to modify involving fracturing and some well stimulation treatments on the Pacific OCS.

Under the agreements, BSEE plans to develop a mechanism to increase transparency in the permit approval process and a method to alert the public of newly submitted complete permit applications for fracturing or acid well stimulation.

The EA "reaffirms what our industry already knows: there are no significant environmental impacts from offshore fracking," said National Ocean Industries Association President Randall Luthi. "Unlike the hyperbole released by many of the extreme environmental groups, the EA's findings are backed by 'ground-truthed' science and are a testament to the hardworking men and women of our industry...We hope this report quickly ends the moratorium on well stimulation techniques offshore California. Offshore energy is a vital source of jobs and revenue for both California and the U.S., and the sooner operations offshore California can resume the better."

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