E&E: Enviros petition EPA to ban chemical discharges off Calif. coast

Scott Streater, E&E reporter
Published: Wednesday, February 26, 2014

An environmental group wants U.S. EPA to ban the discharge of chemicals
off the California coastline that are used by some offshore oil and gas
drilling operators as part of the hydraulic fracturing process.

The Center for Biological Diversity today submitted the 44-page
petition to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Jared Blumenfeld, the
agency’s regional administrator in San Francisco, requesting that the
agency amend a general permit covering offshore oil and gas exploration
off the South California coast to prohibit discharges of “dangerous
fracking chemicals into the ocean just off the coast of California
directly into sensitive habitat for blue whales, leatherback sea
turtles and many other endangered species.”

EPA last month approved an updated version of the general permit that
allows oil companies to discharge more than 9 billion gallons of
wastewater into the ocean each year, according to the environmental
group’s petition.

“EPA must revoke or modify” the permit, which authorizes 23 offshore
oil and gas platforms to discharge into federal waters off California,
“because offshore fracking and its associated discharges endanger human
health and the environment,” the petition said.

The Center for Biological Diversity says oil companies have used
fracturing on more than a dozen offshore wells in California and that a
CBD analysis of 12 offshore sites in the state found that a third of
the fracking chemicals used are suspected of ecological hazards.

“It’s disgusting that oil companies dump wastewater into California’s
ocean,” said Miyoko Sakashita, CBD’s oceans program director in San
Francisco. “You can see the rigs from shore, but the contaminated
waters are hidden from view. Our goal is to make sure toxic fracking
chemicals don’t poison wildlife or end up in the food chain.”

The general permit that EPA updated last month and that is at the
center of the CBD petition was revised to include better oversight of
offshore drilling in the state in response to concerns from state
legislators and others over “the risks to the marine environment from
potential releases of hydraulic fracturing fluids and the adequacy of
the existing information and requirements,” according to the agency
(E&ENews PM, Jan. 9).

The updated general permit, among other things, requires oil and gas
drillers operating offshore in California to maintain an inventory of
the chemicals they use in hydraulic fracturing and other drilling
operations and to report those results if the fluids are released into
the surrounding water.

But the updated permit also allows it to “be reopened and modified if
new information indicates that the discharges (including chemicals used
and discharged in hydraulic fracturing operations offshore) could cause
unreasonable degradation of the marine environment,” according to EPA.

While the updated EPA rules “were a step in the right direction,”
Sakashita said, chemicals used in the fracking process have no business
being discharged into federal waters.

The CBD petition said that the “hazards posed to the environment from
fracking operations are too great to allow the continued dumping of
wastewater with unlimited fracking chemicals into the ocean,” and that
“reporting alone is insufficient” to protect waterways and the marine
life in them.

“The toxic chemicals used for offshore fracking don’t belong in the
ocean,” Sakashita said, “and the best way to protect our coast is to
ban fracking altogether.”

Special thanks to Richard Charter

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