Federal judge issues protections for Santa Barbara Channel
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In 2016, the Environmental Defense Center (EDC) of Santa Barbara, along with the Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, sued the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management et al after they issued 53 permits allowing well stimulation off the shore of California on a total of six platforms; two located off of Ventura County and four off Santa Barbara County. On November 21st, a federal judge issued an order preventing these permits’ approval.
The EDC and Santa Barbara Channelkeeper (SBCK) sued over concerns of the effects of fracking and acidizing on the local environment; the Santa Barbara Channel, situated at the intersection of two major Pacific ocean currents, is nicknamed the Galapagos of North America due to its incredible biodiversity. The groups outline the potential negative impact to threatened area species, like the blue whale, Western snowy plover, and southern sea otter. Their suit alleges that the federal government did not take the proper channels in the lack of consultation of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department, posing harm to species legally protected under the Endangered Species Act.
Betsy Weber, writing on behalf of the Environmental Defense Center for Noozhawk, wrote that the “EDC previously filed a lawsuit to stop fracking and acidizing in the region after discovering, through a series of Freedom of Information Act requests, that more than 50 permits had been issued by the federal government without any public or environmental review. When the government failed to conduct full environmental review or consult with Fish and Wildlife Service, EDC and SBCK had no choice but to file this lawsuit.”
The judge-ordered injunction prevents the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) from proceeding with the approval of certain ocean oil extractions until after consulting the Fish and Wildlife and the National Marine Fisheries Service. Additionally, the California Coastal Commision will be allowed to review the effects of fracking and acidizing before the federally approved practices advance.
The oil from these platforms, operated by ExxonMobil, funnels into Plains All American Pipeline 901, which burst in 2015, spilling hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil off the California coast, damaging the local environment. “[Offshore fracking and acidizing] will extend the life of existing oil platforms in a sensitive marine environment,” said Kira Redmond, SBCK executive director, “which is still recovering from the 2015 Plains All American Pipeline rupture that devastated our coastline.”
The official decision has been a victorious precedent for environmental lobbyists. “We are pleased that the court has put a halt to the risky practice of fracking and acidizing off our coast,” said Maggie Hall, case attorney from the EDC. “This ruling ensures that no further permits will be issued until potential impacts to threatened and endangered species...are considered.”