Lawsuit aimed at federal government over fracking in the Santa Barbara Channel

Dec 4, 2014

Platform Gail in the Santa Barbara Channel
Credit Flickr member Ken Lund

An environmental group took the first step toward suing the federal government on Thursday, over fracking in the Santa Barbara Channel.

The Center for Biological Diversity filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Interior Department for violating federal law in regards to offshore fracking approvals.

The group says the government did not evaluate how the enhanced oil extraction practice may pollute local waters, nor its effects on marine wildlife prior to issuing the approvals to oil companies. 

Attorney Kristen Monsell says her group is aware of at least 20 instances of fracking approval over the past two decades, but nobody knows for sure the extent to which the practice is being used by oil companies in the Santa Barbara Channel. 

"The federal government has said that they themselves aren't even sure the full scope of fracking activities that have occurred because they haven't really been tracking the practice," said Monsell.

Monsell says federal documentation shows at least four approvals for fracking in the channel in 2013 alone. She said the approvals do not necessarily mean the companies then used the practice as an extraction method, just that they were cleared to do so.

The government has 60 days to respond to the letter of intent. The group says it hopes to avoid an actual lawsuit by coming to an agreement with the government to suspend all high-intensity oil extraction while a full analysis is completed.

The platforms affected are those in federal waters and does not include platform Holly, which sits in California waters just off the coast of Goleta.

Meanwhile, the Santa Barbara-based Environmental Defense Center filed a lawsuit in federal court Wednesday charging there was no public nor environmental review prior to the government issuing 51 fracking permits in the channel.

"I think the two cases show that lots of groups and lots of people share concerns about offshore fracking," said Monsell. "It is an inherently dangerous practice that has no place in our oceans. Yet federal agencies are rubber-stamping approvals to engage in this toxic practice without any environmental review when, really, they should not be allowing fracking at all."