MINNEAPOLIS — The Obama administration has approved hundreds of fracking permits for underwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s also frequently allowed oil companies to sidestep the environmental review process.
Even the most severe environmental disaster in the Gulf’s history couldn’t dissuade the government from issuing permits, Truthout reported on Friday.
“Federal records show that regulators approved several drilling plans involving fracking in the Gulf of Mexico even as the Deepwater Horizon disaster unfolded and oil from a broken well spewed into the Gulf for weeks on end,” wrote Mike Ludwig, an investigative reporter for Truthout.
Using Freedom of Information Act requests, Truthout, together with the Center for Biological Diversity, revealed that the government approved more than 1,500 permits for various forms of offshore drilling at hundreds of wells throughout the Gulf from 2010 to October 2014.
“An unknown number of permit applications have yet to be released, so the scope of offshore fracking in the Gulf is likely larger,” noted Ludwig.
An explosion at the BP-operated Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig in April 2010 killed 11 workers and spilled millions of gallons of oil from the drilling site on the ocean floor. Oil flowed for 89 days, creating a massive oil slick that devastated the local ecosystem.
Kristen Monsell, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, told Truthout:
“The Deepwater Horizon disaster should have been a wake up call that we need to move away from offshore drilling. But now the federal government is rubber-stamping practices like fracking without doing any environmental review or notifying the public, and it’s just another disaster waiting to happen.”
Fracking, or hydraulic fracking, involves injecting a mixture of water, chemicals and sand underground to force out fossil fuels like natural gas. On land, it’s been associated with earthquakes and both water and air pollution.
“Offshore fracking techniques are often used in the Gulf to reduce the amount of sand and grit in produced oil and improve its flow path out of the well, according to regulatory documents,” Ludwig reported.
The Obama administration also issued more than 300 “categorical exclusions” during the same period for Gulf sites involved in offshore fracking, a type of exemption from environmental review that also applied to the Deepwater Horizon drill site.
Ludwig reported that fracking sites dump billions of gallons of polluted seawater and fracking chemicals back into the Gulf every year — an estimated 20 billion gallons of what’s called “produced water” was put into the Gulf in 2014 alone. This polluted water produced by fracking often contains cancer-causing or even radioactive chemicals.
President Barack Obama supports an “all of the above” approach to energy in the U.S., which means continued support for fossil fuel development alongside renewable energy, a policy which has drawn criticism from environmental activists and scientists amid record-breaking global warming and the increasingly devastating effects of extreme weather events. At the same time, the oil and gas industry has steadfastly resisted efforts to promote transparency, especially concerning what chemicals are used in fracking.
Monsell told Ludwig the government’s behavior was “frightening and appalling” for “allowing to the industry to frack at will without doing a environmental review or notifying the public or anything.”
She also criticized the government for allowing drilling to proceed without fully understanding its effects on the delicate underwater ecosystem:
“While the federal government shouldn’t be allowing oil companies to frack our oceans at all, it certainly can’t sit idly by without any understanding of the effects of the toxic chemicals being dumped into the ocean.”
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