Environmentalists Sue State over Letting Drillers Frack without Oversight

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Environmental groups who claim the state is allowing energy companies to drill using a controversial method called fracking without providing oversight required by law filed suit Tuesday to halt the practice.

Earthjustice, a nonprofit public interest law firm, filed a lawsuit in state Superior Court accusing the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) in the Department of Conservation of rubber stamping the issuance of drilling permits for projects after exempting them from environmental reviews required by the state’s landmark California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). “In fact, DOGGR regularly permits new oil and gas wells without any environmental analysis at all,” the suit claims.

The suit, filed on behalf of Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Earthworks and Environmental Working Group, wants drillers to prepare environmental impact reviews (EIRs) before permits are issued. EIRs are the key to enforcing CEQA’s requirement that projects in the state be proven not to have a negative effect on the environment.

More than 600 permits were issued last year for fracking, more properly known as hydraulic fracturing, a process that injects pressurized water, along with other chemicals, into rock. Hundreds of thousands of gallons of water, mixed with toxic chemicals, are injected into wells under heavy pressure, fracturing the rock formation and forcing oil or gas out of the ground.

Critics say it has been linked to groundwater contamination, air pollution, releases of methane gas, micro-earthquakes and sink holes.

But the practice is virtually unregulated in California. Two bills that would have introduced a measure of oversight of fracking died in the Legislature last session. One bill would have required drillers to disclose where they are drilling and what kind of chemicals they inject into the ground during the process, and the other would have imposed a moratorium on fracking until more is known about it.

The Department of Conservation has conducted a series of workshops around the state in preparation for potential regulations, but no rules would be available for public review until nearly a year from now.

Fracking has been around since the 1950s, but has received renewed attention lately because it is potentially useful in reaching oil and gas in places that were thought to be inaccessible. California is said to be the repository of the country’s largest store of shale oil and companies are moving to secure properties and drilling rights across the state.

A study commissioned by the Inglewood Oil Field owner after residents in the Baldwin Hills area of Los Angeles County complained about what they considered the ill effects of fracking. Baldwin Hills straddles an earthquake fault. With lawsuits flying, the state agreed to a one-year study and released the report last week.

Cardno Entrix, the environmental consulting firm paid by the oil company, concluded that fracking provided no threat to the environment or people living in the area. The Houston-base company was the consultant to the U.S. Department of State  on TransCanada’s Keystone XL Pipeline and wrote the official environmental reports for the 1,700-mile conduit from Canada to Texas.

Cardno Entrix found that the controversial project would have “limited adverse environmental impact,” signaling a start for the permit process last year. President Obama rejected permitting for the project months later, labeling the review process incomplete for a project that would have shipped petroleum products made from oil sands in Alberta, Canada. Oil sands have a big carbon footprint and are considered one of the dirtiest sources of petroleum.

–Ken Broder     


To Learn More:

Environmentalists Sue California Oil Regulators over Fracking (by Michael J. Mishak, Los Angeles Times)

California Sued by Conservation Groups over Fracking Risks (by Karen Gullo, Bloomberg)

Environmentalists Sue California to Stop Fracking (by Braden Reddall, Reuters)

Unregulated Fracking in California Faces Court Challenge (Sierra Club)

Consultant on Keystone XL Pipeline Gives Baldwin Hills Fracking a Clean Bill of Health (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

Center for Biological Diversity, Earthworks, Environmental Working Group and Sierra Club v. California Department of Conservation, Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (Superior Court for the City and County of Alameda) (pdf)

Leave a comment