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Enviro Group Sues to Stop Fracking Offshore California

San Francisco-based Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) on Thursday sued the U.S. Interior Department for permitting hydraulic fracturing (fracking) off the California coast, alleging it threatens ocean ecosystems, coastal communities and marine wildlife.

In a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District in California, the environmental group alleges that Interior "rubber stamped" offshore fracking without analyzing potential threats. The group claims that oil companies have fracked more than 200 offshore wells in federal and state waters off of California.

A Washington, DC-based Interior spokeswoman told NGI's Shale Daily that the department cannot comment on pending litigation. Oil and natural gas officials in the California Department of Conservation referred inquiries to the federal agency.

A spokesperson for the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) said the CBD is not a credible critic of the industry. "The Center has proven itself to be not a credible participant in the debate about energy production in California.

Last year, while state sources said they were unaware of recent drilling activity in federal waters, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a rule requiring reporting of future use of fracking offshore Southern California (see Shale Daily, Jan. 13, 2014). It was to be effective March 1, 2014.

Two years ago, a stir was caused among state officials when California Coastal Commission staff told the 15-member coastal regulatory body that it had launched an investigation into reports that fracking had occurred in federal waters for the past 25 years, and more recently in state waters (see Shale Daily, Aug. 19, 2013). That prompted state legislators to call for action by the federal government (see Shale Daily, Nov. 22, 2013).

CBD's lawsuit alleges that oil companies have federal government permission to dump more than 9 billion gallons of wastewater, including chemical-laden fracking fluids, in the ocean off the California coast. "Every offshore track increases the threat to our fragile ocean ecosystems," said Miyoko Sakashita, an attorney who directs CBD's oceans program.

Sakashita accused the Interior Department of "turning a blind eye" as fracking continues, along with the dumping of chemicals in the ocean.

"Fracking has caused terrible damage on land and it clearly has no place in our oceans," said Sakashita, urging federal officials to "follow the law." If they do that, they will conclude fracking is "too big a gamble," the attorney said.

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