Government to Reveal Offshore Fracking Details


Published Jun 8, 2015 2:50 AM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. government has agreed to provide an environmental group with documents revealing information about the use of hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit against U.S. offshore drilling regulators earlier this year seeking data on how much fracking has been allowed in the Gulf.

The federal government must reveal the extent of offshore fracking occurring in the Gulf of Mexico under a legal settlement filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. The agreement settles a Center for Biological lawsuit that challenged the government’s failure to disclose offshore fracking documents requested under the Freedom of Information Act.

Under the new agreement, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement are required to turn over permits, reports, emails and other documents related to the federal government’s approval for oil and gas companies to frack offshore wells in the Gulf.

“Offshore fracking has been shrouded in secrecy, but this settlement will finally force the government to tell us where oil companies are using this toxic technique,” said Kristen Monsell, a Center attorney. “Fracking pollution is a huge threat to marine animals, and the high pressures used to frack offshore wells increase the risk of another devastating oil spill. This inherently dangerous activity just doesn’t belong in the Gulf of Mexico.”

Oil and gas companies are allowed to dump fracking chemicals mixed with wastewater directly into the waters of the Gulf, says the Center, but the government can’t say how much oil waste is being dumped into the ocean because it’s not tracking such discharges.

Offshore fracking is similar to fracking that occurs onshore — companies blast water and chemicals into the earth at high pressures to crack rock beneath the Earth’s surface, in this case the ocean floor. Onshore, fracking is done in 90 percent of wells on federal land, and it’s increasingly common offshore.

The federal government reportedly allowed oil and gas companies to frack at least 115 offshore wells in the Gulf of Mexico in 2013, but the full extent of offshore fracking is unknown. Oil industry representatives have said they plan to increase the use of the technique so that they can extract oil from even deeper wells. There are nearly 4,000 offshore platforms in the Gulf, so the scope of the practice could increase dramatically.

Center scientists recently released a report outlining the dangers of toxic chemicals, air pollution and earthquake risk linked to offshore fracking. Fracking can expose coastal communities to air pollutants that cause cancer and other illnesses, it states.
Earlier this year, the Center filed a separate lawsuit against the federal government for rubberstamping offshore fracking off California’s coast without analyzing fracking pollution’s threats to ocean ecosystems, coastal communities and marine wildlife. The case, which is currently pending in the Central District of California, could impact all federally permitted offshore fracking, including in the Gulf of Mexico.

“Every offshore frack increases the risk to wildlife and coastal communities,” Monsell said. “The government has no right to give the oil industry free rein to frack at will in our oceans or to keep coastal communities in the dark about this toxic industrial activity.”

EPA Control

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) has stated that all discharges from offshore fracking must meet EPA specifications as required in the operators discharge permit. All discharges are regulated by the EPA under the general NPDES permit for offshore oil and gas operations, which addresses the chemical constituents that are allowable for overboard discharge of treated water.

The EPA has deemed the discharges related to hydraulic fracturing to be considered as well treatment fluids and are authorized for discharge subject to the requirements of the general permit for discharge and that no additional requirements or approvals would be needed from the EPA.

Hydraulic fracturing has been used offshore for several decades.