Regulators from the California Coastal Commission have opened an investigation into hydraulic fracturing after a recent Associated Press report that the practice has occurred offshore for the past two decades. The Coastal Commission, which is focused on protection of California’s coastline and marine resources, only recently became aware of the contents of the Associated Press report, which relies on documents released by the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) and Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (“BSEE”), and details at least a dozen instances of offshore fracking in the Santa Barbara Channel since the late 1990s. The fracking in the Santa Barbara Channel is not aimed at new well locations but is intended to stimulate old wells into new production.

The Coastal Commission plans to begin its investigation by asking oil companies proposing new offshore drilling jobs if they will be using hydraulic fracturing and require them to submit an environmental review. Because most of the well sites in the Santa Barbara Channel are located more than three miles offshore, the California Coastal Commission will not have sole jurisdiction to grant or deny a permit to an operator who utilizes hydraulic fracturing but can object to a permit in federal waters if the work is determined to endanger water quality in the areas covered by the California Coastal Management Program.

In March, a privately held oil and gas company initially received permission from BSEE to complete a hydraulic fracturing job by DCOR LLC approximately 10 miles off the Ventura County coast. Only a month before the application was approved, officials with BSEE voiced concerns about the proposed work and halted the project pending further review.

Charles Lester, Executive Director of the Coastal Commission, in announcing the investigation at the August 15, 2013 commission meeting, stated, “We take our obligation to protect the marine environment very seriously and we’re going to be looking at this very carefully.” Lester also stated that the Coastal Commission will determine any further action after completing its fact-finding mission.

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