Fears Confirmed: Offshore Fracking A Toxic Mess

Center for Biological Diversity analysis reveals list of toxic chemicals in offshore fracking often dumped with wastewater into ocean.

Offshore oil drilling platform ‘Gail’ operated by Venoco, Inc. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Offshore oil drilling platform ‘Gail’ operated by Venoco, Inc. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

By Jacob Chamberlain, Mint Press News

Offshore hydraulic fracturing operations off the coast of California use highly toxic chemicals that are often released directly into water along the state’s coast, the Center for Biological Diversity revealed today, calling on the state’s Coastal Commission to halt fracking for oil and gas in state waters.

In an analysis sent by letter to the Commission ahead of a meeting this week in Newport Beach, The Center for Biological diversity pulls from data disclosed by oil companies and obtained from government documents that highlights seven risky chemicals used in “hundreds of recently revealed frack jobs in state waters” that directly violate the Coastal Act.

Multiple oil platforms, according to the research, are discharging wastewater directly into the Santa Barbara Channel, according to a government document, and other areas along the California Coast.

The letter states:

In the offshore context, fracking fluid is either discharged into the ocean or transported for onshore underground injection. When disposed of at sea, these chemicals enter the marine ecosystem. 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. These discharges of toxic chemicals directly contravene the requirements of the Coastal Act, which charges the Coastal Commission with the “protection against the spillage of . . . hazardous substances.”

“The Coastal Commission has the right and the responsibility to step in when oil companies use dangerous chemicals to frack California’s ocean waters,” said Emily Jeffers, a Center attorney. “Our beaches, our wildlife and our entire coastal ecosystem are at risk until the state reins in this dangerous practice.”

The research shows that at least one-third of chemicals used in offshore fracking operations “are suspected ecological hazards” and are suspected of “affecting the human developmental and nervous systems.”

The chemicals include X-Cide, which is “classified as a hazardous substance by the federal agency that manages cleanup at Superfund sites.”

“Because the risk of many of the harms from fracking cannot be eliminated, a complete prohibition on fracking is the best way to protect human health and the environment,” the letter states.

A recent report by the Associated Press showed that California coastal regulators were unaware until recently that offshore fracking was even occurring.

This article originally appeared in CommonDreams.

Sea otters, who already had us at hello, will now help clean up the ocean

By Ted Alvarez, Grist

Turns out sea otters do much more than just explain discount rates with aplomb: The adorable little buggers also clean up our oceanic messes. Nitrogen and phosphorous runoff from agricultural pollution creates algal blooms that choke the life out of estuaries — unless these thoughtful, fuzzy Dysons are around. With sea otter populations expanding into California habitats like Elkhorn Slough, where they haven’t been seen for 100 years or more, scientists are watching sea grass and kelp ecosystems return, even though humans are still proverbially shitting the proverbial waterbed. Sci-blogger-genius Ed Yong has more:

Sea otters grab shellfish and other prey from the sea floor and smash them open on the surface, using rocks as hammers and their own bellies as anvils. This makes it very easy for scientists to record what they’re eating, and Hughes used decades of such records to show that the Eklhorn sea otters are crab-specialists. “We estimate that they can easily remove 400,000 crabs per year in an area the size of 7 football fields,” he says. “That’s a huge effect, which cascades down to affect the seagrass.”

The crabs eat other animals including an orange sea slug and a shrimp-like isopod, both of which graze on algae. So by killing the crabs, the otters inadvertently protect the slugs and isopods, which in turn protect the seagrass by nibbling away at encroaching algae. This complicated four-part chain reaction (or “trophic cascade”) is what keeps Elkhorn Slough in its current healthy state.

To make sure the otters were responsible, researchers ran otter simulations — which sadly did not include grad students in discount otter suits bought from the local Furry-in-a-Hurry outlet. Ahem:

His team ringed off small areas of estuary and added fixed amounts of seagrass, slugs and isopods. Then, they added either the small crabs you find when sea otters are around, or the large ones you get when the otters are absent. The bigger crabs did indeed eat more grazers, leading to more algae and less seagrass.

Sea otters are near the top of their food chain, and it’s not surprising that they exert a strong top-down influence upon other local animals. In iconic studies during the 1970s, James Estes established them as classic examples of keystone species – those that are disproportionately influential for their numbers. They protect kelp forests by eating the sea urchins that would otherwise raze them down. With otters, you get underwater jungles of wavy green kelp. Without the otters, you get bare “urchin barrens”.

“The really interesting discovery here is that otters counter the detrimental impact of eutrophication,” says Estes.  In other words, their top-down influence is strong enough to nullify the bottom-up effects of nutrients entering the slough.

As sea otter populations expand into their historic range, their tidy aftershocks could help rehabilitate ecosystems all the way to Baja California. If this also means I can get to Mexico by hugging one ultra-plush otter belly after another instead of waiting behind grinding I-5 traffic, I fully support redirecting the entire federal budget to an emergency militarized otter reintroduction plan. (What? It just makes fiscal sense, people.)

Aww, you adorable sea otters — you shouldn’t have. (Wait, no, you should!)