Environmentalists sue California oil regulators over fracking
A coalition of environmental advocates has filed suit against California oil regulators over the controversial method of oil extraction called hydraulic fracturing, accusing state officials of illegally "rubber-stamping" drilling permits without performing key environmental reviews.
In a lawsuit filed Tuesday, environmentalists allege that regulators are breaking state law by routinely exempting oil projects from the California Environmental Quality Act, the landmark measure that requires developers to go through a lengthy, public process detailing environmental effects of their projects and how they will be mitigated.
The CEQA scrutiny is critical, they said, because California, unlike other oil-producing states, does not have disclosure rules for "fracking," which involves injecting chemical-laced water and sand deep into the ground to tap oil. Energy firms have used the practice here for decades, but regulators only began drafting regulations to govern the procedure this year amid public and legislative pressure.
Environmentalists have raised concerns about potential environmental and public health hazards, including contaminated drinking water. The lawsuit seeks to bar state regulators from approving drilling permits for hydraulic fracturing operations unless they go through CEQA reviews.
"The current lack of oversight is unacceptable and this lawsuit is about getting the information we all need," said Kassie Siegel, of the Center for Biological Diversity, one of four environmental groups who filed the lawsuit.
The California Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources declined to comment on the lawsuit. A spokesman said in a statement that regulators typically grant exemptions for projects "where the addition of one more well on land already densely populated with wells does not alter the overall condition of the land."
Legislation that would have required oil companies to disclose where they use hydraulic fracturing and what chemicals they inject into the ground died in the Legislature this year after significant industry opposition.
-- Michael J. Mishak in Sacramento
Photo: Homes overlook the Inglewood Oil Field. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times