Big oil is ready to fight California’s attempts to regulate hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
New uproar erupted among environmentalists after an investigation by news-site Truthout revealed that oil companies have been fracking off the coast of Santa Barbara, for more than a decade. While the Golden State may be sitting on an oil fortune, the California coast is all too familiar with offshore drilling catastrophes.
Nestled between majestic mountains, and a sparkling ocean, Santa Barbara is a quiet city with Spanish influence and West Coast spirit. Just miles from the historic Franciscan Mission, oil rigs dot the coastline. These waters could become the next frontier in fracking.
“These companies are experimenting with it right now,” said Mike Ludwig, an investigative reporter with Truthout.
Ludwig obtained government documents that show fracking has been used to prospect for oil in federal waters off Santa Barbara.
“Just this year, federal regulators approved another frack job for a company called DCOR, also in the channel, and internal government documents show it has happened at least 11 other times since the 1990’s,” Ludwig said.
Surprised State lawmakers have called for a federal investigation
The California Independent Petroleum Association claims hydraulic fracturing has been used on-shore millions of times and has a strong safety record.
“Fracking is a dangerous technology. What we are talking about today has only existed in the last 10 to 15 years, so this is a new generation of oil and gas extraction,” said Brenna Norton, organizer with Food and Water Watch.
Oil companies like DCOR and Venoco set their sights on the Santa Barbara Channel, which was also the site of a catastrophic oil spill back in 1969. Two-hundred-thousand gallons of crude spread across the channel and onto the nearby beaches. The black mess killed thousands of animals, and sparked the modern environmental movement.
Fracking involves pumping water, sand and chemicals into undersea shale and sand formations. Some of the fracking fluid is treated and dumped in the ocean.
“Under existing law, we don’t know what those chemicals are because of what’s called trade secrets, which is basically their secret sauce, confidential business information,” said Brian Segee, attorney at the Environmental Defense Center
Segee worries that short memories will lead to repeated disasters.
“With the Deepwater Horizon spill just 2 years ago, similar situation gave exemptions from environmental analysis so we are very concerned that with off shore fracking. It’s history repeating itself,” Segee said.
Grass roots activists have been successful in pushing for fracking bans in several municipalities across California. Oil and natural gas companies are anxious to tap into what may be a massive amount of shale oil.
“That shale plate extends into the ocean, and if fracking works in the Santa Barbara channel and other places, more companies are going to want to use the technology to get this oil, in the Monterey Shale, that is not normally accessible using traditional technology,” Ludwig said.
The Monterey Shale is a vast formation that goes from California’s central valley and extends off shore. Energy insiders believe it could contain billions of barrels of oil.
“Even if we frack all the natural gas and oil that we have in the U.S. right now, we’re talking 30-40 years and then we’re going to be truly fracked,” Norton said.
The oil and gas industry argues California will benefit from the jobs that could come from an oil boom. Meantime environmentalists will keep telling them to frack off this tiny stretch of paradise.