Lawsuit Challenges Fracking Off California Coastline

California beach

Published Dec 28, 2016 5:50 PM by The Maritime Executive

Attorney General Kamala D. Harris and the California Coastal Commission have filed a lawsuit challenging the U.S. Department of the Interior's final environmental assessment, which clears the way for hydraulic fracturing (fracking), acidizing, and other advanced well treatments on the Pacific Outer Continental Shelf off the coast of California. The suit was filed on December 19.

In addition to extending our reliance on fossil fuels, research links these types of well stimulation treatments with increased water and air pollution, as well as the potential to harm marine life, says Harris.

“We must take every possible step to protect our precious coastline and ocean,” she said. “The U.S. Department of Interior's inadequate environmental assessment would open the door to practices like fracking that may pose a threat to the health and well-being of California communities. We must balance our energy needs with our longstanding commitment to protecting our natural resources and public health.”

In 2013, it came to light that advanced well treatments were being used off California’s coastline, prompting two environmental organizations to file lawsuits challenging the use of fracking and acidizing offshore without adequate environmental review.

The U.S. Department of the Interior’s environmental assessment, issued in May 2016, found that fracking poses “no significant impact.” According to Harris, this assessment runs contrary to substantial evidence in the record identifying significant environmental effects from fracking, as well as numerous other unique risks posed by offshore fracking. The Department of Interior’s failure to adequately consider these, and other, concerns associated with fracking off California’s coastline prompted the Attorney General to file this lawsuit alleging violations of federal environmental protection laws.

Among those who formally expressed grave concerns about the coastal fracking proposal are the California Coastal Commission and three members of Congress from California, Lois Capps (CA-24), Sam Farr (CA-20) and Jared Huffman (CA-2). In addition, 11 state legislators urged the continuation of the moratorium on offshore advanced well treatments until a more comprehensive evaluation focused on impacts to marine life, ecosystems, and coastal communities is completed.  

The Attorney General’s complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, alleges that in issuing this environmental assessment and finding no significant impact the Department of the Interior violated the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act and the Coastal Zone Management Act.

Earlier this year, Harris, eight other states, and the city of Chicago filed a motion to intervene in support of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) New Source Performance Standards to limit greenhouse gas emissions, specifically methane, from oil and natural gas operations. The new EPA standards mark the first time the EPA has directly limited greenhouse gases from the oil and natural gas sector and tightens existing limits on emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from oil and natural gas operations.