Congresswoman Lois Capps calls for offshore fracking moratorium

Written By: Dan Bacher, November 22, 2013

As the oil industry amps up its campaign to expand fracking (hydraulic fracturing) in California, a prominent California Congresswoman is calling for a moratorium on offshore fracking in federal waters off the California coast. 

On November 19, Representative Lois Capps (D-Santa Barbara) sent a letter to U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy calling for a moratorium on offshore fracking activities in federal waters off the coast of California until a comprehensive study is conducted to determine the impacts of fracking activities on the marine environment and public health. 

Requests under the Freedom of Information Act, along with Associated Press and reports and an analysis from the Environmental Defense Center, have to date revealed that California’s coastal waters have been fracked at least 203 times in the last 20 years. 

Capps said she has been pushing federal regulators for information on this issue for months and "continues to monitor onshore and offshore fracking activities closely." 

"I have been seriously concerned about offshore fracking since recent reports first brought it to light,” Capps said. “While we still know little about the impacts of onshore fracking, we know even less about impacts of offshore fracking. The inadequate oversight of these activities is unacceptable, and offshore fracking should be halted until we better understand their impacts.” 

The fracking took place as Catherine Reheis-Boyd, President of the Western States Petroleum Association, served from 2004 to 2012 on the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Forces to create alleged "marine protected areas" in state waters stretching from the Oregon to Mexican borders. 

In one of the most overt conflicts of interest in California history, Reheis-Boyd chaired the task force that crafted the "marine protected areas" in Southern California that fail to protect the ocean from fracking, oil drilling, pollution, millitary testing, wind and wave energy projects and all human impacts other than fishing and gathering. 

In a meeting of the MPA Collaborative Implementation Project in Morro Bay this week, Joey Racano of the Ocean Outfall Group asked Resources Agency officials "how the Chair of the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force, also the President of Western States Petroleum Association, could not have known that offshore fracking was already going on at the time!" 

As the campaign to ban offshore fracking heated up, the Brown administration last week released new draft fracking rules authorized under Senator Fran Pavley's Senate Bill 4, the green light to fracking bill. Food and Water Watch issued an action alert urging people to submit public comments on the draft rules: 

Caleen Sisk, Chief of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, urged people to support a ban on fracking in California. 

"California's new draft fracking rules Are BAD," she said. "Tell Governor Brown that weak regulations won't cut it. We need a ban!" 

"Regulations don't make fracking any safer - no water for fracking at the expense of the Tribal ceremonies and salmon habitat," Sisk stated. 

Capps speaks out against two bad oil drilling bills 

In other fracking news, Capps also spoke out Tuesday against two oil drilling bills being considered on the House floor later this week, according to a news release from her office. 

"The first, H.R. 2728, would prevent the Department of the Interior from enforcing any federal standards on hydraulic fracturing if a state has any rules or even unenforceable guidance governing fracking, no matter how weak or ineffective the state rules are. It would also interfere with the EPA's scientific study of the impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources by modifying the design and scope of the study more than two years after it was finalized," according to the release. 

Capps proposed an amendment to H.R. 2728 that would have implemented the moratorium called for in her letter, but House leadership did not allow it to be brought to the House floor for consideration. 

The second, H.R. 1965, makes drilling less safe by shortening the amount of time to review permit applications to drill onshore, rolls back leasing reforms, and requires a $5,000 fee to challenge a federal leasing decision. "The bill irresponsibly expands drilling on public lands at the expense of public uses like hunting, fishing and recreation," according to Capps. 

"These bills are solutions in search of problems,” Capps said. “They tear down environmental protections and restrict public participation in an attempt to expand oil and gas production. But oil production on federal lands has gone up significantly since 2008, and federal regulations have not stopped states from implementing their own fracking rules. These bills are nothing more than reckless giveaways to big oil and gas companies that put American families and the environment at risk.” 

Capps is also supporting several pieces of legislation that would increase the transparency and safety of onshore fracking activities, including the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals (FRAC) Act (H.R. 1921), the Bringing Reductions to Energy's Airborne Toxic Health Effects (BREATHE) Act (H.R. 1154), the Focused Reduction of Effluence and Stormwater runoff through Hydrofracking Environmental Regulation (FRESHER) Act (H.R. 1175), and the Closing Loopholes and Ending Arbitrary and Needless Evasion of Regulations Act (CLEANER) Act (H.R. 2825). These measures close loopholes that currently allow the oil and gas industry to avoid complying with environmental protection laws on hydraulic fracking and other activities. 

The text of Capps’ House floor speech (video here - is below: 

Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong opposition to this rule and the underlying bills. 

These bills are solutions in search of problems. They tear down environmental protections and restrict public participation in an attempt to expand oil and gas production. But oil production on federal lands has gone up significantly since 2008, and federal regulations have not stopped states from implementing their own fracking rules. 

These bills are nothing more than reckless giveaways to big oil and gas companies that put American families and the environment at risk. 

H.R. 2728, for example, would preemptively prohibit the federal government from setting even minimal safety standards for fracking. Fracking – whether onshore or offshore – poses serious environmental and public health risks that we don’t yet fully understand. 

We know very little about the environmental and public health impacts of onshore fracking, but we know even less about offshore fracking. 

Offshore fracking has been occurring for over 20 years off of California’s coast – with at least four fracs approved as recently as this year. But federal regulators and the public only recently became aware of these activities thanks to FOIA requests released last summer. 

We know virtually nothing about the size of these fracs, the chemicals being used, or the impacts on the marine environment. 

They have been approved with categorical exemptions and decades-old permits that are woefully inadequate. 

That’s why I offered an amendment to H.R. 2728 to stop these activities until a full environmental review is conducted. Unfortunately, my amendment was not made in order, which is disappointing. 

If oil companies get to inject millions of gallons of fracking fluids into our public lands, then the least we can do is study the impacts of those activities. 

Whether it’s done offshore or onshore, we have a responsibility to ensure fracking is safe. But these bills only undercut this crucial responsibility. 

I urge my colleagues to stop this reckless giveaway to Big Oil and oppose this rule and the underlying bills.

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