On May 27, 2016, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (“BOEM”) and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (“BSEE”) jointly released a Programmatic Environmental Assessment (“PEA”) for well stimulation treatment activities at operations on the Outer Continental Shelf (“OCS”) of offshore California. The agencies identified and studied the environmental impacts of 43 lease areas at 23 active wells that could undergo well stimulation treatments, which includes hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”).
As required under the National Environmental Policy Act, the PEA evaluated a range of potential impacts including air quality, water quality, commercial and recreational fisheries, recreation and tourism, and environmental justice. In conducting the analysis, the agencies adopted definitions contained in California’s Senate Bill 4. For example, well stimulation treatments “include, but are not limited to, hydraulic fracturing treatments and acid well stimulations.”
The PEA acknowledged that an accidental release of well stimulation treatment fluids could occur. However, according to the report, the probability of an accidental release of well stimulation treatment-related chemicals is very low.
“Drawing on the best available science, the [P]EA provides information and analysis on the use of well stimulation treatments in federal waters offshore California. The comprehensive analysis shows that these practices, conducted according to permit requirements, have minimal impact.” -BOEM Director Abigail Ross Hopper.
The Secretary of the Interior, who oversees BOEM and BSEE, is tasked with balancing “orderly resource development with protection of the human, marine, and coastal environments.” According to the PEA, the protection of persons and the environment can be maintained while safely developing resources on the OCS.
The PEA is the result of a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity (“CBD”) against BOEM and BSEE (Case No. 2:15-cv-01189, Feb. 2015). Due to the subsequent settlement agreement in that case, there is currently a temporary moratorium on issuance of fracking permits in the OCS. However, CBD’s lawsuit seems to have backfired because, in the PEA, the agencies conclude by proposing to permit the use of well stimulation treatments on the current active leases and operating platforms. The PEA confirms what the industry has maintained: offshore oil operations have no significant environmental impact.