By Sandy Mazza, Daily Breeze
July 31, 2015
A national environmental organization went to court this week demanding an immediate halt to hydraulic fracturing and other intensive well-stimulation methods until California petroleum industry regulators can consider new scientific findings of troubling health and environmental threats.
If a judge agrees with the Center for Biological Diversity, the agency’s complaint could lead to a prohibition on any new fracking projects, which constitute about a quarter of the state’s petroleum production.
Kassie Siegel, the lead attorney on the lawsuit filed Thursday in Sacramento Superior Court, said state legislators ignored alarming hazards to continue “business as usual” for the oil industry and minimized dangers outlined in a state-commissioned fracking report released in July.
The independent scientific report was designed to inform state policy but it wasn’t considered in the California’s first large-scale environmental impact report on well-stimulation activities published last month. Both the study and the EIR were ordered by the 2013 passage of Senate Bill 4, which established the first statewide well-stimulation regulations and, in response to a large public outcry, vowed to answer a long-simmering question: How toxic is fracking?
But the report that addressed those hazards was delayed from January to June, and it ultimately was released about a week after the EIR. Therefore, the EIR produced by the state’s Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources did not include recommendations from the study, including immediate identification and study of all the chemicals used and two-mile setbacks between certain oil operations and places where people can be found. Some of the chemicals have been shown to cause cancer and reproduction problems, among other concerns.
The EIR also found little reason to connect the intense underground water and chemical injections with earthquakes, which have proven to be linked in other areas.
Siegel said the EIR should be rendered moot and well-stimulation permits should be on hold until further study is done. And she had harsh words for Gov. Jerry Brown.
“The promise made to Californians in SB 4 was that decisions on fracking would be made based on the science,” said Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. “It’s absolutely shocking and outrageous that the Brown administration delayed the release of the independent scientific review by over six months, and then it came out nine days after the EIR. The whole point was to finish (the scientific study) first so they could use it to inform the EIR.”
The center’s lawsuit, a writ seeking an injunction on intense well stimulation in California, argues that there is ample scientific evidence to withhold new fracking permits. New York, Vermont and Maryland have recently imposed bans on large-scale fracking operations.
“This is a refusal to consider the science,” Siegel said. “They’re breaking the promise to Californians that the decisions would be made based on science. The science shows severe risks.”
Fracking shoots toxic chemicals and water deep underground — often past protected underground drinking water reserves — to aggressively extract oil from shale and other rock formations. Combined with new directional drilling technology, well-stimulation practices have revolutionized domestic oil production by opening up previously unreachable oil deposits.The state EIR identifies major health and environmental concerns for air and water quality from well stimulation. Groundwater resources are particularly vulnerable in California, the report states, because so much fracking is done in shallow oil fields close to aquifers. Also, it found that the projects are disproportionately located in minority communities.
Though it identifies some mitigation measures to improve the negative impacts, it argues that banning fracking would be more harmful to the environment because it would force the state to import 57 million barrels of crude oil a year on railways and ships, which also produce pollution.
“The Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources intends to take into consideration the independent science study’s findings and recommendations as it processes and conducts environmental review of well-stimulation treatment permit applications,” said spokesman Don Drysdale. “After a full review of the study, it will determine whether any of its existing regulations require updating.”