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California Oil Officials Release Deeply Flawed Fracking Environmental Review

State regulators shrug off health, environmental risks after New York bans dangerous oil extraction method.

Sacramento— California oil regulators today released a draft environmental review of fracking that fails to adequately analyze many major risks from fracking, including air and water pollution and risks to public health. Th review by California’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources was released even though state scientists are still six months away from completing their analysis of the risks and harms of the controversial form of oil and gas extraction.

The California Council on Science and Technology today released the first volume of a state-commissioned, three-part fracking study. The other two volumes aren’t out until July, and the first volume addresses only the extent of fracking in California and does not assess risks.

“State oil officials’ incomplete and deeply flawed fracking review shows the urgent need for Gov. Brown to institute an immediate moratorium on fracking and other dangerous oil and gas development,” said Kassie Siegel of the Center for Biological Diversity. “State regulators are shrugging off the grave threats to our air, water and health from oil and gas wells. Instead of whitewashing the risks, California needs to follow New York’s lead and halt these dangerous activities immediately.”

The science council today reported that fracking is heavily concentrated in communities in the San Joaquin Valley, which already suffers some of the nation’s most polluted air. But the council also said that fracking has occurred in at least 96 different oil and gas fields around the state and reiterated concerns about the risk of contaminated oil industry wastewater potentially being used to irrigate crops.

The draft report from DOGGR focuses almost exclusively on fracking and other well-stimulation techniques, rather than considering the risks and harms associated with all phases of drilling and production, which cannot be separated from well stimulation.

Because of this flawed approach, state regulators can’t fully analyze the environmental risks, but even this incomplete review admits fracking causes significant and unavoidable damage to California’s air, biological and cultural resources, public safety and climate.

But the DOGGR review downplays the risks of water pollution, despite a previous finding from state scientists that fracking in California occurs at shallower depths than elsewhere, increasing the potential threat of contaminating groundwater, and despite the state’s failure to protect groundwater from pollution by oil and gas wastewater, as required by federal law.

The Environmental Protection Agency has found serious deficiencies in California’s effort to protect water supplies from contaminated oil industry wastewater. Almost 3 billion gallons of oil industry wastewater have been illegally dumped into central California aquifers that should have been protected under federal law and are clean enough to supply drinking water and farming irrigation, according to recently released state documents.

Thousands of wells have already been fracked in 15 counties across California, as well as in the state’s coastal waters. New York health officials recently released a fracking analysis that found that fracking posed significant threats to the environment and public health. On the basis of that report, New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a ban on fracking in that state.

“Gov. Brown must follow New York’s lead and protect our health and climate from oil and gas pollution,” Siegel said.

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