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Special Investigation: Fracking in the Ocean Off the California Coast

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Environment and Climate Resource Center page and our Organic Transitions page.

The Pacific Ocean may be the next frontier for fracking technology.

A Truthout investigation has confirmed that federal regulators approved at least two hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," operations on oil rigs in the Santa Barbara Channel off the coast of California since 2009 without an updated environmental review that critics say may be required by federal law. 

The offshore fracking operations are smaller than the unconventional onshore operations that have sparked nationwide controversy, but environmental advocates are still concerned that regulators and the industry have not properly reviewed the potential impacts of using modern fracking technology in the Pacific outer continental shelf.

Oil drilling remains controversial in Santa Barbara, where the memory of the nation's third-largest oil spill lingers in the minds of the public. In 1969, the nation watched as thick layer of oil spread across the channel and its beaches following a blowout on an oil rig, killing thousands of marine birds other wildlife. The dramatic images helped spark the modern environmental movement and establish landmark federal environmental laws that eco-groups continue to challenge the government to enforce.

In 2012, Truthout reported that an oil company called Venoco had quietly used fracking technology to stimulate oil production in an old well off the coast of Santa Barbara in early 2010. A Freedom of Information Act request recently filed by Truthout has confirmed the Venoco operation and revealed that another firm had since received permission for fracking in the Santa Barbara channel, which is home to the Channel Islands marine reserve.   


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