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California Offshore Fracking Controversy

Published
American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)

January 8 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a new rule on offshore hydraulic fracturing that takes effect on March 1. The rule adds additional effluent limits and monitoring requirements. Operators would be required to maintain an inventory of chemicals used in drilling operations and report any released into surrounding waters. The new EPA rule applies only to existing development and production platforms, and new exploratory drilling operations in federal waters off the Santa Barbara coast. There are 23 existing production platforms in California federal waters.

Draft rules for onshore and offshore wells have been issued by California requiring companies to test groundwater and alert landowners before fracking or other well stimulation. Companies would also have to disclose the chemicals used These rules go into full effect in 2015. California state waters, which include the giant Wilmington field, have seen almost 200 fracture treatments since the 1990s.

So where is the controversy?

Until recently the public was generally not aware that fracking operations were being conducted offshore. Once the news got out, media coverage and public concern grew. The concerns are similar to those on land–a lack of detailed information on the chemical composition of hydraulic fracturing fluids and flowback water. Offshore operations add another level of concern because platforms are allowed to discharge fluids into the ocean.

EPA has long regulated effluent from offshore platforms; each platform is required to monitor effluent volumes and selected chemical constituents. The effluent is primarily cooling water and produced water from conventional oil and gas operations. The new rules will require much closer monitoring and may lead to additional treatment of fluids or alternate, non-marine disposal methods.

The picture above is platform A in the Dos Cuadras field, which was installed in 1968.

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