Supreme Court Denies Oil Industry Challenge to California Offshore Fracking Moratorium

WASHINGTON—The US Supreme Court today declined to hear a challenge to a court-ordered ban on high seas fracking in federal waters off the coast of California.

Today’s decision upholds last year’s ruling by the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that the federal government violated the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Area Management Act Coastal when it allowed fracking and acidizing extraction practices at all offshore oil and gas wells. in federal leased waters in the Pacific Ocean.

“California’s incredible coastline and vulnerable marine life deserve this victory, which will protect the ecosystem from the many dangers of fracking on the high seas,” said Kristen Monsell, ocean legal director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “Banning fracking will help prevent the most toxic chemicals from poisoning fish, sea otters and other marine life. But our ocean won’t really be protected until offshore drilling stops once and for all. We expect this to be the beginning of the end for drilling off the coast of California.”

The Environmental Defense Center initially filed a lawsuit in 2014 to stop fracking and acidification in the region after discovering, through a series of Freedom of Information Act requests, that the federal government had issued more than 50 permits without any public or environmental review.

“The Supreme Court was right to reject the oil industry’s latest attempt to allow fracking and acidification in our waters without any meaningful environmental review,” said Maggie Hall, EDC Senior Attorney. “The Santa Barbara Canal is one of the richest and most ecologically important regions in the world. As the climate crisis intensifies, ending these destructive extraction practices is a matter of survival, not just for the whales, otters and other animals in the Canal, but for all life on earth.”

The appeals court decision also prohibits the Department of the Interior from issuing fracking permits until it completes an Endangered Species Act consultation and an Environmental Impact Statement that discusses “the environmental impacts of extensive offshore fracking.” ” and ” fully and fairly evaluate[s] all reasonable alternatives.

The ruling was the result of three separate lawsuits brought by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Wishtoyo Foundation, the Center for Environmental Defense and Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, and the State of California. The lawsuits challenged the federal government’s approval and inadequate environmental review of offshore fracking in the Pacific Ocean.

“Protecting the health of the ocean is essential to conserving the ecosystem in which the Chumash people have thrived for more than 10,000 years,” said Mati Waiya, executive director of the Wishtoyo Foundation, a native-led nonprofit dedicated to to the protection of Chumash life forms and the environment. “We applaud the appeals court’s decision, which by upholding environmental laws, honors the rights of our people and protects our precious coastal resources.”

The American Petroleum Institute, ExxonMobil and DCOR, LLC, which are defendants in the case, have asked the Supreme Court to review the Ninth Circuit’s decision. The Department of Justice, on behalf of the defendant federal agencies, opposed the petition for review.

“Today’s decision affirms the importance of assessing the impacts of offshore fracking on California’s marine wildlife, fisheries and coastal communities,” said Ted Morton, executive director of the Santa Barbara Channelkeeper. “With increasing threats to ocean ecosystems from climate change, it is essential that federal agencies properly assess the risks of oil and gas development in offshore resources.”

At least 10 chemicals routinely used in offshore fracking could kill or harm a wide variety of marine life, including marine mammals and fish, Center scientists have found. The California Council on Science and Technology has identified some common fracking chemicals that are among the world’s most toxic to marine animals.

The Ninth Circuit’s decision notes that the Interior “disregarded necessary caution” in giving the green light to fracking practices with unknown consequences.