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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on February 3rd, 2016, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 16, Issue 48 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 16, Issue 48

Federal agencies halt offshore fracking permits pending review of environmental impact

By BRENNA SWANSTON

Federal agencies will be reviewing the environmental impacts of offshore oil well stimulation—which includes acidizing and hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”)—following a Jan. 29 settlement agreement from the Environmental Defense Center (EDC).

The techniques utilize the injection of sand, water, and chemicals into rock formations fracturing or dissolving them to withdraw oil and gas. The practice has spurred controversy in recent years because it often occurs in quiet operations and is subject to little or no environmental review.

EDC senior attorney Brian Segee said oil companies such as ExxonMobil and the American Petroleum Institute have used these practices regularly for the past decade along the Santa Barbara Channel, sometimes discharging their wastewater directly into the ocean. Despite this, the environmental impact of offshore well stimulation has gone largely unchecked by government agencies.

But the EDC’s settlement agreement will change that.

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) are now required to evaluate the impacts of fracking and acidizing on water quality, air quality, and endangered species in the Santa Barbara Channel.

“We really welcome this settlement as providing a long overdue glimpse into the impact of fracking and acidizing,” Segee said. “It’s going to be a big-picture look at the overall use of that practice off our shores and the environmental impacts.”

BSEE and BOEM have until May 28 to prepare a programmatic environmental assessment (PEA), which will assess these impacts under the policies of the National Environmental Policy Act. After the PEA’s submission, the assessment will be open for 60 days to public comment.

Segee said the PEA is usually a “look before you leap” approach to practices with potential environmental impact—but due to lack of government scrutiny, this case is a little different.

“The government is supposed to consider the environmental impacts of these actions before they occur,” he said. “In this case, fracking has already occurred, so it’s a bit of catch-up.”

If the PEA results show no significant environmental impact, the analysis of fracking and acidizing will end. If results do indicate a significant impact, the agencies will have to complete a more detailed environmental impact statement, Segee said.

The settlement agreement also aims for transparency. In the future, whenever a new permit is issued authorizing offshore well stimulation, BSEE will post notification of that permit on the agency’s website.

Until BSEE and BOEM complete their PEA, they may not approve new drilling permits to authorize offshore well stimulation. Existing permits, however, will not be affected.




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