Offshore Fracking Dumps Dangerous Waste off the California Coast


Julia Frazer
Staff Writer

The Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit conservation organization, filed a petition to the Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday, Feb. 26, to stop oil and gas companies from dumping toxic wastewater directly into the ocean off the coast of California.

Federal permission has given the oil industry license to dump more than nine billion gallons of wastewater a year into the ocean off California’s coast. According to KCET, that volume of toxic wastewater is enough to fill more than 100 stadiums the size of the Rose Bowl. Approximately half of the oil platforms in the Santa Barbara Channel dump the majority of their wastewater into the sea.

Fracking is the process by which oil companies use toxic chemicals at high pressures to force oil out of subsea rock. This process produces large volumes of waste contaminated with chemicals. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, oil companies have been using fracking on old oil wells, which increases the risks of accidents and spills. Fracking has also been linked to air pollution and earthquakes.

“It’s disgusting that oil companies dump wastewater into California’s ocean,” said Oceans Director at the Center for Biological Diversity Miyoko Sakashita in a press release. “You can see the rigs from shore, but the contaminated waters are hidden from view. Our goal is to make sure toxic fracking chemicals don’t poison wildlife or end up in the food chain.”

The Center for Biological Diversity’s website gives details about how fracking can negatively impact public health and the environment. Offshore fracking in California poses a threat to water quality and coastal communities and endangers marine ecosystems. Toxic oil and fracking chemicals can pollute habitats of blue whales, elephant seals, and leatherback sea turtles. According to the Center, the petition is especially important for the preservation of blue whales, which depend on the Santa Barbara Channel for food. Fracking is also occurring near the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, which hosts many endangered species vulnerable to pollution and habitat destruction caused by fracking.

“It’s the devil we know and the devil we don’t know,” said Martha McClure, an appointed commissioner at last month’s hearing on the oil industry’s use of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in Pismo Beach. “In this case, we don’t know either one, and it’s freaking people out.”

The petition asks that the EPA alter a federal permit that has previously allowed offshore oil and gas operations to pollute the ocean. The press release states that the wastewater could possibly contain fracking chemicals used in offshore wells. According to KCET, some chemical byproducts of fracking include toxic substances like methanol, benzene, naphthalene, and trimethylbenzene. Fracking wastewater can also contain lead and arsenic picked up from deep-rock formations.

KCET reports that though the safe disposal of wastewater is not easy, ocean disposal does pose risks for coastal communities.

“It came as a complete surprise to learn that oil companies are fracking in waters off the coast where I let my kids swim and play,” said Sakashita in the press release. “The toxic chemicals used for offshore fracking don’t belong in the ocean, and the best way to protect our coast is to ban fracking altogether.”