Fracking in California

Widespread use of fracking in offshore wells raises alarm

| posted on November 06, 2013
California fracking

Reports have found that undocumented fracking has been occurring off the coasts of California. Photo: Burkard

Off the coast of some of Southern California’s most iconic beaches, oil companies are utilizing an environmentally controversial process to tap into oil deposits previously considered unreachable. The procedure, known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” has received widespread criticism from environmental groups like the Surfrider Foundation and has occurred much more than was previously known. But it’s not the act of fracking alone that has environmental groups raising red flags, it’s that it’s happening with very little oversight from government agencies.

The physical process of fracking involves shooting a highly pressurized mix of sand, chemicals, and water into the earth in hopes of releasing trapped oil and natural gas deposits that would have otherwise been out of reach with traditional drilling methods. There are more than 30 existing wells off the coast of California and, depending on their location, the regulatory oversight falls under the federal or state government.

Although there is no evidence that offshore hydraulic fracturing has led to any spills or chemical leaks, the fact that the practice is happening without adequate government oversight is worrisome. A recent report found that fracking has occurred at wells located out to sea from towns like Huntington, Long Beach, Seal Beach, and Santa Barbara more than 200 times over the past two decades. When presented with this information, the agencies responsible for overseeing drilling in state waters were oblivious.

The federal government and the EPA are responsible for wells located more than three miles off the coast. Ironically, through a provision in the Clean Water Act, those wells do not have to disclose what chemicals they’ve used for fracking as they’ve been deemed “trade secrets.” Many of the wells treat some of the liquids used for fracking and then dump them back in the ocean.

The process of monitoring fracking in state waters has proven to be far more murky. There are three organizations tasked with monitoring drilling in state waters (the State Land Commission, California Coastal Commission, and the Dept. of Oil, Gas, and Geo-Thermal Resources), yet surprisingly, when the AP broke a story about fracking occurring in state waters, all three agencies were unaware that it had occurred.

In response to the finding, state agencies conducted a review but revealed that there was serious confusion as to which organization was responsible for the oversight of fracking in state waters. “It’s pretty baffling that they don’t know who’s responsible for monitoring this. They really need to get their act together and hammer out a regulatory plan,” said Stefanie Sekich of the Surfrider Foundation.

Allison Dettmer of the California Coastal Commission echoed Sekich’s sentiments in a comment given to the AP. “We still need to sort out what authority, if any, we have over fracking operations in state waters; it’s very complicated.”

In September, the state passed a law that would require oil companies to disclose what chemicals they use to frack in state waters. However, it won’t take effect until 2015.

  • surferreader

    Thank you for covering this important story.

  • Mike Mueller

    DOGGR is responsible first but those other agencies could become involved if there were any direct violations of their rules.

  • ron

    Companies have been fracking over 50 years, study your history. Lots of nationwide studies on this and not one indecent of ground water contamination. This is not a movie but reality. Government crooks wants to scare us so they can TAX us again. “Although there is no evidence that offshore hydraulic fracturing has led
    to any spills or chemical leaks, the fact that the practice is
    happening without adequate government oversight is worrisome”. Ha! They already take tax from us for every gallon of gas without doing anything to help produce a single drop. Crooks!!!

    • Tim

      Check out the recent Colorado spills. Seriously. Your understanding of oil policy is needing refining (pun intended) as well. You should look into how we pay for the “government crooks” to clean up corporate oil spills frequently. Our expense, their profit. But no tax, right? Wow.

    • Kona

      No incidents of ground water contamination? Are you serious? Go ask the folks in rural Pa who are moving from there homes and farms because of luekemia’s ,lymphomas and the ability to light their water on fire! The animals on the farms have lost the fur on there bodies. No contamination! And you have the nerve to call some other concerned person a moron? Stay in H.B and don’t bother to travel to Hawaii, we just have a bunch of us bleeding heart liberals over here. Remember E.B.T stands for “eh brah thanx”. Aloha

    • De Neice Kenehan

      The Santa Barbar drill rig was the site of the third largest drilling spill in history. This is a summary.

    • Jillnts


      I live in PA where the gas companies pay off people all the time for contamination.

      We even have a farm where the cows are radio active…yes I said radio active…

      from drinking water from a puddle that was contaminated by fracking fluids that ran out of the well when someone forgot to close a valve.

    • Jillnts

      I live in PA and they certainly do pollute water. The gas companies pay people all the time for damages. We even have radio active cows.

  • cvlocal

    Ron, you sound like a paid shill that shows up on all fracking news articles and posts the same drivel. Right, there are no incidents of water contamination. Please. How much do you get paid to go around posting on sites like this? I hope its more than minimum wage to sell your soul out and to disregard genuine concerns over a simple buck. I hope a fracking operation starts up next to where you and your family live and lets see what you think of it after living by it for a year. I’m sure an energy company with no regulatory monitoring and not divulging the chemical compounds of what they are injecting into the ground or back into the ocean must be doing the right and morale thing. Is that what you’re selling?

  • kevin hale

    dear ron, i’ve studied the history, and so has the new york times:

    next time, please keep your deluded, planet-hating, pro-ExxonMobil, Fox News idiocy to yourself.

  • ECSwell

    It’s a good conversation to have. I read the article, Kevin, and it seems like a lot of people saying, “We just don’ t know what impact it’s having- but we’d sure like to.” I’d want to know, if it was my well! There has to be a balance between “more government regulation”, which seems to be Ron’s concern, and wild, devil-may-care “drill-at-will” (Kevin’s concern). It’s a conversation that needs to happen. Thanks, Surfer, for taking it on.

  • Bring on the Tsunami

    Fracking increases the rate of seismic activity. Check out the charts in Science Magazine This will be good for us surfers!

    Fracking causes more earthquake. More earthquakes mean more Tsunami. More Tsunami’s mean more waves. Hopefully there will be some big Tsunamis that will wipe out the rich peoples homes that live on the coast and make the coast a dangerous place to live. Which will lower the real estate values so that surfers can buy homes at good breaks.

    Stoked that the oil companies will be helping deliver more waves and lower the cost of housing for surfers.

  • Phil Wollerman

    In New Zealand, an exploratory well is being drilled in 1500m of water 100 kilometres off the Raglan coast. We’d like to know more about that, too, with the prevailing westerlies set to push any spills straight into the beautiful left handers.

  • stone fish

    Let’s get Ron! He is obviously working for some oil lobbyist. As he said companies have been fracking for over 50 years… The damage done to the ocean in those 50 years is irreversible. The ocean has been becoming more acidic destroying the reefs and damaging the fragile ecosystem. I’d bet my money that big oil and other industries are to blame. As for his no incidents from fracking? WTF is he smoking. All you have to do is so a little research to find all sorts of damage fracking has caused.







  • ron

    Go ahead kevin call me names you a-hole, (sound like a shill cvlocal?)but I’m just a blue collar HB surfer who’s educated enough to see Obummer loving big government growing another government agency. Oil companies are way smarter than government crooks and especially all the libs crying wolf to get more of my money in taxes. It’s not like there is no over-site already .Oil companies also know lack of self regulating will cost them more money, which is what their all about. The new york times? Really? See what I mean, people will believe anything, even the POTUS. And I’m a Idiot? I have nothing against XOM the biggest company in the world, or Fox news who stands for the constitution and conservative views, we all use energy so just don’t be a hypocrite. Good luck with your Obummercare kevin.

    • wendyjoseph

      Let us know what kind of cancer you get from surfing in water laced with fracking chemicals. And get your head out of the sand. It is evident you have never really thought about these issues, as you are merely regurgitating the propaganda lies you’ve been fed on Fox News (which the Dish network just dumped and which cannot broadcast in Canada under a news license. It is licensed as entertainment, since it is not considered a bona fide news network.) Try asking questions, and finding out the real facts for yourself. You are blind.

  • Kyra Scott Nixon

    i9 know we need resourses but is our need greater than killing our planet and killing the ocean no please guys no stop this x

  • sean

    Follow the $$. Washington is paid. Sacramento is paid. There’s a paper trail of lobbyists the whole way.

  • Gaviero

    our city (Fort Collins, CO) just passed a 5 year moratorium on fracking brought to ballot by citizens (now the state will sue us as they did with our neighbors to the south, Longmont CO, that passed a similar moratorium a few years ago) – no cynicism just reality – nonetheless; all of this bides time, costs energy companies (as oil/gas companies now call themselves), and builds strong conscious communities – growing up on sailboats I encountered the positives and negatives of cities annexing the ocean – this could be a chance for annexation to be used in a positive way – might be worth looking into by locals – annexation and a moratorium by ballot – once the people are empowered the tide is unfathomable, you can’t kill ideas…

  • hardtruth00

    Although there is NO EVIDENCE that offshore hydraulic fracturing has led
    to any spills or chemical leaks, the fact that the practice is
    happening without adequate government oversight is worrisome. Yawn…

  • Sage Ross

    Most of our government are crooks. they are all still getting paid even though shit is shut down and they only care about the money are they making or losing at that moment. now oil companies, NO ONE can say with 100% truth that what they are doing has no effects on the planet or ocean. The only thing we have done together as a human race on this earth is contribute to the death of it. you think someone is going to truly care what they are doing to the earth when millions hangs in the balance? no. EVERYONE is greedy and looking out for the big number 1. Themselves. so dont act like one or the other is to blame.

  • Iuri

    Someone knows where is the picture?

    • chuck

      big drakes and razors

  • Elise

    Can’t wait for acid surf 🙁

  • Nick

    Important issue that I hope receives the proper attention and regulation.

  • De Neice Kenehan

    “Not only is offshore fracking a thing, but it’s been happening off the
    coast of California for a good 15 years now, in the same sensitive
    marine environments where new oil leases have been banned since a
    disastrous 1969 spill.”

    Monterey Shale underlies a vast stretch of California, includes some
    famous faults and is being viewed by industry as a bonanza. As yields
    from conventional drilling diminish and energy costs rise there will be
    increasing incentives to frack, inject steam and any other extreme
    measures to squeeze the last drop of oil out of the Earth and the feds
    have demonstrated indifference, at best. The Santa Barbara Channel is
    considered to be the birthplace of offshore drilling as well as the
    birthplace of the modern environmental movement. It is fitting that this
    should be the place where we take a stand for our health and the health
    of the plane” – ” GPaudler

  • Lisa Mcguire

    We are going to leave our grandchildren with nothing but headaches and heartaches. I really wish people would get it, oil is a finite resource. It’s all going to be gone in 50 years. Then what?

  • Phillip Moya

    I find it ludicrous the government has waited so long, only to wait even longer. 2015 are you kidding me? Look the oil industry will wait to avoid any conflict, then in 2015 they will march in with attorney’s and say we have the Halliburton loophole we don’t need to deluge our ingredients. I hope i’m wrong. I hope i’m wrong, I hope i’m wrong.

  • Tom Tubbs

    Any news on your 2015 deadline on the chemicals used for FRACKING?