What is the potential impact?
Alarming as the map above appears, there probably are not any immediate plans to frack the waters off San Diego’s coast. Shell abandoned its Point Loma “core hole” in 1967 and aborted plans to drill similar holes off the coast of Encinitas and La Jolla in 1970. There are also numerous “idle wells” (no longer in use) on the land between Oceanside and the Mexican border. According to statistics obtained from the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, there are more than 52,000 abandoned sites in California. The existence of these sites is primarily a historical footnote, though one has to wonder why they were considered in the past and if there is any possibility that an oil company could become interested in the future. The immediate threat to San Diego is to the North.
Oil companies are now known to have fracked the waters off Huntington Beach, Seal Beach and Long Beach at least 203 times during the past two decades. Though there is a lot of water between there and San Diego, much of it is carried South by the California current.
“We still need to sort out what authority, if any, we have over fracking operations in state waters; it’s very complicated,” Alison Dettmer, a deputy director of the California Coastal Commission, told the Associated Press.
Emily Jeffers, an attorney from the Center from Biological Diversity, disagrees, “The Coastal Commission has the right and the responsibility to step in when oil companies use dangerous chemicals to frack California’s ocean waters. Our beaches, our wildlife and our entire coastal ecosystem are at risk until the state reins in this dangerous practice.”
According to a letter that Jeffers recently sent the California Coastal Commission, “ … The Coastal Commission acknowledges that approximately half of the platforms in the Santa Barbara Channel discharge all or a portion of their wastewater directly to the ocean. This produced wastewater contains all of the chemicals injected originally into the fracked wells, with the addition of toxins gathered from the subsurface environment.cites a government document that The Center says hundreds of recently revealed frack jobs in state waters violate the Coastal Act. Some oil platforms are discharging wastewater directly into the Santa Barbara Channel, according to a government document.”
Jeffers said that 7 chemicals that the TEDX Endocrine Disruptor Exchange identified as “harmful” are in the wastewater. She suggested that while a total ban on fracking is the best way to protect human health and the environment, the Commission should at least impose regulation and require gas and oil companies to take out a permit.
“While the impacts to wildlife have received little study, these chemicals clearly pose a threat to marine life,” Jeffers added. “Toxic chemicals that enter the marine environment will impact marine life and sensitive habitats. California has many species of whales, porpoises, dolphins, pinnipeds, and sea otters. More than 500 species of fish live off the shores of southern California. The coastal waters off California are a productive foraging region for whales and sea turtles and support a myriad of wildlife.”
Some endangered species species would pass through San Diego waters. This is definitely true with grey whales, blue whales and orcas. There is less evidence of how far seals and dolphins range, but they may follow fish this far south.
Though it is not known how many Fracking contaminants reach San Diego, oil spread this far during the infamous 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill. Offshore fracking increases the risk of an accident because of the tremendous pressure this process places on wells and another incident would most likely lead to the contamination of San Diego’s beaches or the ocean near the city.
(Image above: Offshore Platform Holly, South Ellwood Field, CA.: http://www.netl.doe.gov/technologies/oil-gas/Petroleum/projects/EP/ResChar/15127Venoco.htm)