Feds face lawsuit on offshore fracking

JANUARY 12, 2015 — A conservation group has sued the federal government for failing to release public documents revealing the extent and risks of offshore fracking (hydraulic fractioning) in the Gulf of Mexico.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Washington, D.C. by the Center for Biological Diversity, argues that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) must disclose permits, reports, emails and other documents related to the federal government's approval for oil and gas companies to frack offshore wells in the Gulf.

"The public has a right to know where, when and how much fracking the federal government is allowing in the Gulf of Mexico," said Kristen Monsell, a Center attorney. "Offshore fracking has been shrouded in secrecy in the Gulf, but we know this dangerous activity pollutes our water and air and poses a toxic threat to marine wildlife and fragile ocean ecosystems."

The Center filed a Freedom of Information Act request last year, but says the government has failed to respond. Its lawsuit seeks an immediate response from the government and prompt disclosure of the requested documents.

The Center says that offshore fracking blasts water and industrial chemicals into the seafloor at pressures high enough to crack geologic formations and release oil and gas. The federal government allowed oil and gas companies to frack at least 115 offshore wells in the Gulf of Mexico in 2013, according to recent reports.

According to the Center, the government is allowing offshore fracking with almost no oversight or input from coastal communities and little public disclosure about the extent of the practice.

It says that the failure of BOEM and BSEE to respond to the FOIA request "means that local communities — many of which are still suffering the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill — are kept in the dark about how much fracking the federal government is allowing off their coasts."

Center scientists recently released a report outlining the dangers of toxic chemicals, air pollution and earthquake risk linked to offshore fracking. Fracking can expose coastal communities to air pollutants that cause cancer and other illnesses. Oil and gas companies are allowed to discharge fracking chemicals mixed with wastewater directly into the waters of the Gulf, says the Center.

"We're trying to untangle the web of secrecy that surrounds offshore fracking in the Gulf of Mexico," Ms. Monsell said. "We know it's happening and know the government is approving it — the public ought to know how much and how often. Fracking doesn't belong in the ocean, and the federal government has a legal and moral obligation to reveal how widespread this inherently dangerous activity has become in our coastal waters."

The Center for Biological Diversity describes itself as a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 800,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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