With fracking operations to extract fossil fuels off the California coast stepping up, lawmakers in that state are demanding to know why the federal government is approving such operations without following legally required environmental reviews.
Last week, a group of California lawmakers demanded a federal investigation into the use of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking" technology, off the coast of California.
In 2012, Truthout reported that a company called Venoco had quietly used fracking techniques in early 2010 to produce oil in the Santa Barbara Channel, where drilling remains controversial due to a catastrophic oil spill in 1969. Last month, a Truthout investigation revealed the technology has been used at least a dozen times in the Pacific Ocean, including a fracking job in the Santa Barbara Channel approved by federal regulators earlier this year.
Last week, California lawmakers sent letters to both the US Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requesting an investigation of fracking off the California Coast.
"Hydraulic fracturing poses great potential dangers to our sea life and all California residents," said Assemblyman Das Williams, a Democrat from Santa Barbara who signed the letter.
The lawmakers also asked the California Coastal Commission, which has the authority to review federally approved activities that affect coastal resources, to review - and potentially block - existing fracking permits and future proposals to frack offshore.
"Fracking has been exempted from virtually any oversight in California. We don’t know enough about where fracking is happening, how it is happening and what its impacts are on our public health," said state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, a Santa Barbara Democrat. "The recent revelation by the media that fracking is taking place off our coastline in sensitive coastal waters has only added to the urgency of taking action."
Government documents, released to Truthout by the Interior Department under the Freedom of Information Act, revealed for the first time the extent of offshore fracking in the Pacific Ocean.
Federal regulators conducted a "geohazard" review of an offshore frack job approved this year due to its proximity to active seismic faults, according to the internal documents.
About a week after the Truthout report was published, the Associated Press published a similar report that was also based on a Freedom of Information Act Request, drawing further attention to the issue.
Offshore fracking operations are much smaller than the large, unconventional onshore operations that have spurred national controversy, but environmentalists say that federal regulators have not produced a detailed review of the impacts that offshore fracking may have on the environment, which is required by federal law.
Internal communications released by the Interior Department's Bureau of Ocean Safety and Environmental Enforcement, which approves offshore drilling permits, revealed that top regulators had openly wondered how the agency could approve offshore fracking jobs without issuing an environmental impact review.
Offshore fracking is rare, but federal regulators expect more oil firms to use fracking technology in the ocean as drillers rush to exploit reserves in the Monterey Shale formation, according to the Truthout investigation.