Federal regulators have approved at least two hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, operations on oil rigs in the Santa Barbara Channel off the coast of California since 2009 without an updated environmental review that critics say may be required by federal law. Environmental advocates are concerned that regulators and the industry have not properly reviewed the potential impacts of fracking in the Pacific outer continental shelf.
Fracking, a subject of heated debate, is a method of drilling that forces water, chemicals and sand deep beneath the Earth’s surface at high pressure to break up underground rock and release oil and gas. Offshore fracking is currently used to stimulate oil production in old wells and provide well-bore stability.
In California, the oil company Venoco has been using fracking technology to stimulate oil production in an old well off the coast of Santa Barbara—where the public memory of the nation’s third-largest oil spill in 1969 lingers—since early 2010. Another firm recently received permission for fracking in the Santa Barbara Channel, home to the Channel Islands Marine Reserve.
So far, offshore fracking is rare, but officials expect that other firms may seek to utilize the environmentally damaging technology on offshore rigs in the future.