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Environmental Groups Sue California for Failing to Regulate Fracking

Thursday, November 1, 2012

EWG has joined several prominent environmental groups in filing suit against California regulators for failing to evaluate the impact of hydraulic fracturing operations in the state, as required by state law.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is used to extract oil and gas from geological formations by injecting large quantities of water, sand and chemicals deep underground under very high pressure. The technology has been linked to a wide range of environmental harms, including water contamination and air pollution. Recent evidence has also connected underground injection of wastewater from hydraulic fracturing to an increased risk of seismic activity, a matter of keen interest to Californians. 

The lawsuit charges the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) of the California Department of Conservation with violating the state Environmental Quality Act. Without considering or evaluating the impact of fracking, the division has routinely exempted oil and gas drilling from any environmental review or declared that fracking has no significant effects on the environment. The Division, which is charged with overseeing drilling, operation and maintenance of oil and gas wells in California, doesn't even track or monitor fracking operations. As a result, neither the government nor the public knows exactly where and how often fracking occurs in California or what effects it is having.  Making matters worse, the Division has not kept systematic records of failures of well casings, which could result in groundwater contamination.

Earlier this year, the Division held a series of workshops around the state to gather information in preparation for writing new fracking regulations. It remains unclear, however, when the agency will release a draft of the rules and what exactly they will cover. 

According to information disclosed by the Western States Petroleum Association, more than 600 wells were fracked in California last year, and industry has been using the technology in the state for more than 50 years. EWG believes that the Division's routine approval of permits for oil and gas wells without adequately considering the consequences of hydraulic fracturing poses serious and unlawful risks to public health and the environment. Californians cannot afford to wait any longer for the agency to fulfill its obligations under state law. 

EWG joined Sierra Club California, the Center for Biological Diversity and Earthworks in filing the suit. A copy of the complaint is available here.

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