Oil companies frack in waters off California

Aug 03, 2013 by Alicia Chang

Companies prospecting for oil off California's coast have used hydraulic fracturing on at least a dozen occasions to force open cracks beneath the seabed, and now regulators are investigating whether the practice should require a separate permit and be subject to stricter environmental review.

While debate has raged in the U.S. over fracking on land, prompting efforts to ban or severely restrict it, offshore fracking has occurred with little attention in sensitive where for decades new oil leases have been prohibited.

Hundreds of pages of federal documents released by the government to The Associated Press and through the Freedom of Information Act show regulators have permitted fracking in the Pacific Ocean at least 12 times since the late 1990s, and have recently approved a new project.

The targets are the vast in the Santa Barbara Channel, site of a 1969 spill that spewed more than 3 million gallons of crude oil into the ocean, spoiled miles of beaches and killed thousands of birds and other wildlife. The disaster prompted a moratorium on new drill leases and inspired federal clean water laws and the modern environmental movement.

Companies are doing the offshore fracking—which involves pumping hundreds of thousands of gallons of salt water, sand and chemicals into undersea shale and sand formations—to stimulate old existing wells into new .

Federal regulators thus far have exempted the chemical fluids used in offshore fracking from the nation's clean water laws, allowing companies to release fracking fluid into the sea without filing a separate environmental impact report or statement looking at the possible effects. That exemption was affirmed this year by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, according to the internal emails reviewed by the AP.

Fracking fluids can comprise hundreds of chemicals—some known and others that aren't since they are protected as trade secrets. Some of these chemicals are toxins to fish larvae and crustaceans, bottom dwellers most at risk from drilling activities, according to government health disclosure documents detailing some of the fluids used off California's shore.

Marine scientists, petroleum engineers and regulatory officials interviewed by the AP could point to no studies that have been performed on the effects of fracking fluids on the marine environment. Research regarding traditional offshore oil exploration has found that drilling fluids can cause reproductive harm to some marine creatures.

"This is a significant data gap, and we need to know what the impacts are before offshore fracking becomes widespread," said Samantha Joye, a marine scientist at the University of Georgia who studies the effects of oil spills in the ocean environment.

The EPA and the federal agency that oversees offshore drilling, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement or BSEE, conduct some routine inspections during fracking projects, but any spills or leaks are largely left to the oil companies to report.

In a statement to the AP, the EPA defended its oversight of offshore fracking, saying its system ensures the practice does not pollute the environment in a way that would endanger human health. Oil companies must obtain permits for wastewater and storm water discharges from production platforms that "ensure all fluids used in the drilling and production process will not adversely impact water quality," the statement said.

Oil companies also maintain that much of the fracking fluid is treated before being discharged into the sea. Tupper Hull, spokesman for the Western States Petroleum Association, said fracking in general is safe and has "never been associated with any risk or harm to the environment" in over six decades in California.

California coastal regulators said they were unaware until recently that offshore fracking was even occurring, and are now asking oil companies proposing new offshore drilling projects if they will be fracking.

Because the area of concern is located more than three miles (about 5 kilometers) off the state's shoreline, federal regulators have jurisdiction over these offshore exploration efforts. However, the state can reject a permit in federal waters if the work endangers water quality.

"It wasn't on our radar before, and now it is," said Alison Dettmer, a deputy director at the California Coastal Commission.

Government documents including permits and internal emails from the BSEE reveal that fracking off the shores of California is more widespread than previously known. While new oil leases are banned, companies can still drill from 23 grandfathered-in platforms in waters where endangered blue and humpback whales and other marine mammals often congregate.

In March, a privately held oil and gas company received permission from the agency to frack some 10 miles (16 kilometers) off the Ventura County coast. The job by DCOR LLC involves using the existing wellbore of an old well to drill a new well. Three so-called "mini-fracks" will be done in an attempt to release oil locked within sand and rocks in the Upper Repetto formation.

Only a month before the application was approved, however, an official with the BSEE voiced concerns about the company's proposed frack and whether the operation would discharge chemicals into the ocean.

"We have an operator proposing to use 'hydraulic stimulation' (which has not been done very often here) and I'm trying to run through the list of potential concerns," Kenneth Seeley, the BSEE's regional environmental officer for the Pacific, wrote in a Feb. 12 email to colleagues. "The operator says their produced water is Superclean! but the way they responded to my questions kind of made me think this was worth following up on."

BSEE officials approved DCOR's application on March 7. The agency told the AP that DCOR's job would use far less fracking fluid than an onshore operation.

"For comparison, well stimulation offshore typically uses 2 percent of the liquids and 7 percent of the sand that is used routinely for onshore ," the BSEE said in a statement.

Oil industry estimates show that at least half of the chemical-laced water used in fracking remains in the environment after an operation. Environmental groups say as much as 80 percent of the fluids can be left behind. The rest gets pumped back up to the oil platform, and is piped or barged back to shore for treatment. Companies can also pump the fluids into an old well reservoir to discard it.

DCOR, which did not respond to requests for comment, is not the first company to try to tap more oil from California's offshore reserves, nor is the project the most extensive offshore frack here in recent years.

In January 2010, oil and gas company Venoco Inc. set out to improve the production of one of its old wells with what federal drilling records show was the largest offshore fracking operation attempted in federal waters off California's coast. The target: the Monterey Shale, a vast formation that extends from California's Central Valley farmlands to offshore and could ultimately comprise two-thirds of the nation's shale oil reserves.

Six different fracks were completed during the project, during which engineers funneled a mix of about 300,000 pounds of fracking fluids, sand and seawater 4,500 feet beneath the , according to BSEE documents.

Venoco's attempt only mildly increased production, according to the documents. Venoco declined to comment.

Despite greenlighting offshore fracking projects for years, federal and state regulators now are trying to learn more about the extent of fracking in the Pacific even as officials and marine scientists scramble to weigh the environmental effects.

In January, Jaron Ming, the Pacific regional director of the BSEE, told employees in an email that there had been heightened interest in offshore fracking from within the agency and the public.

"For that reason, I am asking you to pay close attention to any (drilling applications) that we receive and let me know if you believe any of them would be considered a 'frac job.'"

That same month, BSEE estimated in internal emails that only two such jobs had occurred off California in the past two decades. But weeks later, as the agency worked to respond to public requests about fracking offshore, emails show it had found 12 such instances of offshore fracking.

BSEE said it cannot be sure just how often fracking has been allowed without going through every single well file.

Brian Segee, a staff attorney at the Environmental Defense Center, said the uncertainty makes him skeptical about the actual number of offshore fracks. The Santa Barbara-based environmental law firm, which formed in the wake of the 1969 oil spill, is calling for a moratorium on future fracking in the Pacific until the potential environmental effects are studied.

Most fracking efforts off California have yielded mixed results. The first time Venoco fracked offshore in the 1990s, it had limited success. Chevron's one try failed. Out of Nuevo Energy's nine attempts, only one was considered very successful, according to company and BSEE records.

The practice has been more fruitful in the North Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, where it's more common and the porous nature of the geologic formation makes it easier to extract oil, according to regulators and oil industry experts. Still, oil companies surveyed by federal regulators said they haven't ruled out fracking projects in the Pacific in the future.

As fracking technology evolves and companies seek to wring production from old offshore wells, drilling experts caution that strict safety precautions and planning are needed.

Working in the open ocean, "you have to be a lot more careful to avoid any spillage," said Mukul Sharma, a professor of petroleum engineering at The University of Texas at Austin.

David Pritchard, a Texas petroleum engineer who has been working in offshore drilling for 45 years, said offshore fracking "no doubt adds complexity and risk."

One concern is that the high pressure fracking mixture in some jobs might break the rock seal around an old well bore, allowing to escape, added another expert, Tulane University petroleum engineering professor Eric Smith.

"I'd say it (offshore fracking) is safe," Smith said, "but nothing's a sure thing in this world."

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Caliban
1 / 5 (4) Aug 03, 2013
Profit justifies any risk.
Shootist
1.3 / 5 (13) Aug 03, 2013
Oil companies frack off California


Yea! Hizzah! Oh rapturous day!

Drill here, drill now.
deatopmg
1.6 / 5 (14) Aug 03, 2013
Fraking has been in practice for well over 40 yrs w/ few problems. What is new is the use of sand or ceramic pieces, known as propends, because they prop open the fractures created by the high pressure water to allow oil or gas to flow at much higher rates.

Thickening agents are used to increase the viscosity of the water to keep the propends from settling out before they get to their intended destination. Some of these agents may be slightly toxic whereas others are non-toxic and totally biodegradable.

The cheap energy produced by fraking keeps poor people fed and clothed and them a chance to move up the economic ladder whereas food derived "green" fuels does just the opposite.
mountain_team_guy
1.3 / 5 (13) Aug 04, 2013
Oh, not another Deepwater Horizon. I can't take another over-hyped media spectacle. Tar balls are not disasters. They are washing up on the Gulf beaches in more or less the same frequency as they always have. I'm sure the California coast is no different. Now, if the Titanic were to roll over in an oil spill, that would be a disaster.
Water_Prophet
1.4 / 5 (10) Aug 04, 2013
Ye capitalist infidels have not examined that drilling within their country benefits them little. Those oil companies ownership lies in foreign nations. It benefits the land of purple mountains little, violating it greatly, yet profiteers care little about fragging outside their countries.
antialias_physorg
4 / 5 (4) Aug 05, 2013
Oil companies frack in waters off California...
...exempted the chemical fluids used in offshore fracking from the nation's clean water laws...
...That exemption was affirmed this year by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency...
...chemicals—some known and others that aren't since they are protected as trade secrets...

Environmental disaster in 3...2...1...

California coastal regulators said they were unaware until recently that offshore fracking was even occurring...
...could point to no studies that have been performed on the effects of fracking fluids on the marine environment...

And nobody sees anything wrong with this? Least of all the friggin' EPA?

'hydraulic stimulation'...Superclean!

Oh boy - when the euphemisms start flying you know that there's somthing going on. It means someone is investing serious dollars into PR/spin-control (and no one does that if it's not needed).
(Words like 'Superclean'(tm) don't mean anything)
TheGhostofOtto1923
1.5 / 5 (8) Aug 05, 2013
Hard to imagine a disaster which would compare to what nature is already pumpng into California waters daily

""NOAA describe a natural seepage area in California: "One of the best-known areas where this happens is Coal Oil Point along the California Coast near Santa Barbara. An estimated 2,000 to 3,000 gallons of crude oil is released naturally from the ocean bottom every day just a few miles offshore from this beach"."
http://oils.gpa.u...rces.htm

-Only one if the 1000s of these pumping millions of barrels daily into the ocean. Socal is among the worst.
antialias_physorg
3.7 / 5 (6) Aug 05, 2013
Apples and oranges.

There's a very fundamental difference between seepage and gushers/spills (and here we're talking about the fluids used for fracking - not the oil, BTW)

But as for oil seepage: This is a distributed phenomenon where a distributed ecosphere can react to it (by decomposing the substances over a wide area). Gushers (like in oil drilling accidents) or spills (e.g. tankers) aren't distributed.

It's always a matter of: Can the LOCAL ecosphere decompose as much as is put in? A distributed input (even if larger) can be handled by an ecosphere without impact, while a LOCAL concentration overpowers that LOCAL ecosphere's ability to cope and kills it off.

It's a bit like: Can you breathe the air even though there's CO2 in it? Yes - and with no ill effect. Can you breathe it if even a small part of all that CO2 is concentrated near you? No - you'll die. Distributed. Local. Big difference.

TheGhostofOtto1923
1.5 / 5 (8) Aug 05, 2013
Uh you mean locally like this?

"A new study finds that the natural petroleum seeps off Santa Barbara, Calif., have leaked out the equivalent of about eight to 80 Exxon Valdez oil spills over hundreds of thousands of years."

"There is effectively an oil spill every day at Coal Oil Point (COP), the natural seeps off Santa Barbara where 20 to 25 tons of oil have leaked from the seafloor each day for the last several hundred thousand years."

These oil and natural gas seep fields occur LOCALLY up and down the pacific coast.

Oh and as always thanks for the pedantics.
ScooterG
1.5 / 5 (16) Aug 05, 2013
It's all a governmental shell game designed to keep the dolt masses confused and angry.

The guv makes more money off a gallon of fuel than the oil companies who produce it do. Despite that, the libs - who specialize in spending other people's money - demand the government raise taxes.

The libs still have not figured out who actually pays for all the governmental burden on business. Hint: it ain't the business that is being taxed.
antialias_physorg
4.2 / 5 (5) Aug 05, 2013
The libs still have not figured out who actually pays for all the governmental burden on business.

You mean like the NEGATIVE taxes that the likes of Enron pay (read: subsidies from taxpayer money)? That kind of 'burden'?

To the big companies the US is a socialist state (with the exception tha they themselves don't contribute but syphon off additional cash from those that do)
TheGhostofOtto1923
1.7 / 5 (6) Aug 05, 2013
But as for oil seepage: This is a distributed phenomenon
Uh no its not.

"The Coal Oil Point seep field offshore from Santa Barbara, California is a petroleum seep area of about three square kilometres, adjacent to the Ellwood Oil Field, and releases about 40 tons of methane per day and about 19 tons of reactive organic gas (ethane, propane, butane and higher hydrocarbons), about twice the hydrocarbon air pollution released by all the cars and trucks in Santa Barbara County in 1990. The liquid petroleum produces a slick that is many kilometres long and when degraded by evaporation and weathering, produces tar balls which wash up on the beaches for miles around.

This seep also releases on the order of 100 to 150 barrels (16 to 24 m3) of liquid petroleum per day. The field produces about 9 cubic meters of natural gas per barrel of petroleum."

-This is in shallow water and within a few miles of shore, in contrast to Deepwater Horizon at 1 mile deep and 40 miles offshore.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1.7 / 5 (6) Aug 05, 2013
An informative link for the above seep field
http://www.geol.u...0'10.pdf

-Beaches in the area look ok to me.
http://www.santab...odG0sAkw

This field is also adjacent to the area where the fracking is going on:

"The targets are the vast oil fields in the Santa Barbara Channel" [the Ellwood Oil Field]

-which is already being tapped by Platform Holly, in 211 feet (64 m) of water approximately two miles southwest of Coal Oil Point.

It may make sense to further remove oil from this field to reduce seepage, which has increased in the last 20 years. Earthquakes in this area could increase seepage rates even further.

-And so once our knee stops jerking we can see that fracking and extraction in this area might just be a GOOD thing for the environment.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1.7 / 5 (6) Aug 05, 2013
Although the locals will tell you that tarriness is a part of the local color.
http://www.edhat....?id=2603

-Maybe they should sue somebody. As I see it the only long-term solution would be a little judicious nuclear geoengineering, which has been well-studied.

"The Soviet Union conducted a much more vigorous program of 239 nuclear tests, some with multiple devices, between 1965 and 1988 under the auspices of Program No. 6 and Program No. 7-Nuclear Explosions for the National Economy. Its aims and results were similar to those of the American effort, with the exception that many of the blasts were considered applications, not tests."

"Reports on the successful Soviet use of nuclear explosions in extinguishing out-of-control gas well fires were widely cited in United States policy discussions of options for stopping the 2010 Gulf of Mexico Deepwater Horizon oil spil..."
kochevnik
1.9 / 5 (11) Aug 05, 2013
Despite that, the libs - who specialize in spending other people's money - demand the government raise taxes.
Yes that abomination you call a church should be taxed, Scooter
ScooterG
1.3 / 5 (14) Aug 05, 2013
The libs still have not figured out who actually pays for all the governmental burden on business.

You mean like the NEGATIVE taxes that the likes of Enron pay (read: subsidies from taxpayer money)? That kind of 'burden'?

To the big companies the US is a socialist state (with the exception tha they themselves don't contribute but syphon off additional cash from those that do)


Equating all business with the fraud and corruption of Enron is as ludicrous as equating all science with AGW.
Shelgeyr
1.8 / 5 (12) Aug 07, 2013
Two young children in Pennsylvania were banned from talking about fracking for the rest of their lives under a gag order imposed under a settlement reached by their parents with a leading oil and gas company.


The parents were paid. The children, being minors, cannot be signatories to a contract. Once they reach adulthood and are no longer their parents legal dependents, should they care to say anything and everything they choose, there's no way the oil company would be able to claw back what they've paid the parents. Should it go to court (and I predict it never will), a friendly judge with a better understanding of Freedom of Speech would throw out their entanglement.

But it is a moot point. FT(linked)A: the oil company said "We don't believe the settlement applies to children", so the Guardian is as unreliable as always.
antialias_physorg
3.9 / 5 (7) Aug 08, 2013
Equating all business with the fraud and corruption of Enron is as ludicrous

The tax rates paid by the top 500 companiesin the US have been steadily dropping (currently the average is about 10% below the statutory tax rate).

And in case you missed math class: any time someone pays less taxes than they should as compared with others then tehy are effectively getting government handouts.

This is not the problem of one company (Though the likes of GE, Boeing, American Electric, etc. who occasionally pay negative taxes is particularly drastic) - it's a problem that is caused by ALL major companies. They're being treated as if they lived in a socialist state (noticed the 'too big to fail' handouts?). They take no risk whatsoever - and do not contribute, either.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1.8 / 5 (5) Aug 08, 2013
Where do you get these lies aa?

"U.S. companies face the highest official corporate tax rate in the world [35%]. But there's a big difference between the rates set out by law and the cash that's actually collected. Large, profitable U.S. corporations paid an average effective federal tax rate of 12.6% in 2010, the Government Accountability Office said Monday."

As compared to;

"In Germany, corporate income tax is currently levied at a rate of 15 percent. A solidarity surtax of 5.5 percent is also imposed on the corporate income tax rate, bringing the total corporate income tax burden to 15.825 percent...Volkswagen, paid around EUR3.6bn in corporation tax to the German tax authorities. Last year, the car group benefited from an effective corporate tax rate of 14.2 percent..."
any time someone pays less taxes than they should as compared with others then tehy are effectively getting government handouts
-So you must be talking about corporations on the DAX correct?
ziphead
1 / 5 (6) Aug 08, 2013

...
Some of these agents may be slightly toxic..


Slightly toxic... so if you administer it to lab rats they go, what... slightly dead?
ScooterG
1 / 5 (8) Aug 10, 2013


And in case you missed math class: any time someone pays less taxes than they should as compared with others then tehy are effectively getting government handouts.


And in case you missed common sense class: the corporation does not pay the tax, you do - but only after the corporation puts a 25% markup on the tax.

Exxon, for example, is going to make their 6% net profit come Hell or high water. If you impose a tax on Exxon, their cost of doing business goes up, and their selling prices go up accordingly.

In effect, your precious tax imposition contributes to Exxon's "obscene" profits - Hahahaha!

"Taxation as a Profit Center" - that would be a great title for a book!