Offshore fracking

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{{#badges: FrackSwarm|Navbar-fracking}} Fracking for offshore oil and gas reserves is taking place in the United States. In California, Venoco is currently fracking the Sockeye field offshore from McGrath Beach in Santa Barbara County. Critics have argued that there needs to be more regulations and public oversight of these practices.[1]

Fracking also takes place off the coast of Long Beach, California on man-made oil islands. It was reported in 2013 that 203 fracking operations had taken place offshore Long Beach at six different sites over the past 20 years.[2]


In 2014 U.S. federal waters, three miles offshore, from land produced 528,447 barrels (22.2 million gallons) of crude oil.[3]

Offshore fracking can sometimes involve using seawater rather than fresh water along with sand and chemicals.[4]


Gulf of Mexico

In 2014, federal regulators at the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) released a partial list of 115 hydraulic fracturing sites in the Gulf of Mexico revealed that BP, ConocoPhillips, Shell and nearly two dozen other drillers were approved to use offshore fracking in 2013. The BSEE also indicated that fracking occurred near the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon spill. [5]

The BSEE list released in 2014 indicated a fracking process known as "frac packing" was deployed during 2013. Frac packing has been used offshore for decades. It uses high pressure water, gravel and chemicals to clear sand from the opening of the well and allow fossil fuels to flow. It is more established and typically smaller in scale than the large, horizontal hydraulic fracturing operations. [6]

Chevron claims fracks at its deepest Gulf water sites. Chevron claims it drills to reserves at almost six miles below the seafloor. [7]

In August 2014 the federal government sold more than 400,000 acres in the Gulf of Mexico off the Texas coast for oil and gas. Many of the leases were in the Lower Tertiary Basin, an area of hard-to-penetrate rock where the crude is located in deep wate. This can make hydraulic fracturing environmentally risky. [8]

The US Department of the Interior must reveal records on the use of fracking technology in the Gulf of Mexico under a legal settlement with an environmental group, Center for Biological Diversity, filed in federal court on June 1, 2015. [9]

The Gulf of Mexico has several subsalt oil reserves. A subsalt is a play underneath a layer of salt. According to Schlumberger, drillers had avoided these formations because of the poor seismic data. [10]

In all, President Obama has okayed over 1,500 offshore fracking permits in the Gulf of Mexico as of summer 2016.[11]


On December 2016, Belize announced a ban to offshore oil exploration in seven marine parks of the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System World Heritage site. This is about 2,117 kilometers protected areas.[12]


One of Brazil's offshore areas called the Subsalt Polygon may contain 176 million barrels of recoverable oil. A subsalt is a play underneath a layer of salt. According to Schlumberger, drillers had avoided these formations because of the poor seismic data. [13]

Halliburton claims Brazil one of the most expensive places to drill offshore. [14]


In October 2014, Nigeria became the first country to stop exporting oil to the U.S. In 2010 Nigeria was one of the top five oil suppliers to the U.S. The fall off of exports to the US drop is due to new developments such as horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing in the U.S. [15]


Seismic testing has begun on Somalia's offshore over the Indian Ocean.[16] The Guardian reported in 2015 that the oil services company Schlumberger sponsored a two-day conference attracting around a 100 delegates to discuss how to unlock Somalia's vast, and so far untapped, oil and gas reserves.[17]

Offshore Fracking in California.

United States


In July 2013 the news site Truthout reported that federal regulators approved at least two hydraulic fracturing operations on oil rigs in the Santa Barbara Channel off the coast of California since 2009 without an updated environmental review to account for modern fracking technology. Regulators approved both operations by signing off on modifications to existing drilling permits. In an internal email, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) Chief of Staff Thomas Lillie wondered how the agency could allow fracking offshore without producing an environmental impact statement (EIS) on the effects. No studies have been performed on the effects of fracking fluids on the marine environment.[18]

It was later reported that the BSEE gave “categorical exclusions” to oil companies for frack jobs on existing offshore oil rigs, allowing them to proceed with the activity in the federal waters off California without public disclosure or environmental impact analysis. According to federal guidelines, categorical exclusions are intended for projects that don’t warrant an environmental review because they don’t normally “result in significant environmental harm.”[19]

According to a BSEE fact sheet, fracking has occurred 11 times in the Pacific drilling region during the past 25 years, although BSEE officials say the number is only an estimate. Under heavy pressure from environmental groups and state politicians, the California Coastal Commission launched an investigation into offshore fracking, saying it was not aware that fracking technology was being used offshore. On August 6, nine California lawmakers sent letters to the Interior Department and the EPA demanding a federal investigation into offshore fracking, and asking the coastal commission to review federal offshore fracking permits and use its authority to block fracking activities that could harm the California coast.[18]

An October 2013 Environmental Defense Center review and analysis of federal records received through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) showed that at least 15 fracs have occurred offshore California, with several more proposals pending. But according to EDC: "More fracs have almost certainly been conducted, however, as federal regulators were until recently unaware that the practice was being used." Saying the offshore frac jobs raise questions about compliance with environmental laws, EDC recommends a "moratorium on offshore fracking and other forms of well stimulation unless and until such technologies are proven safe through a public and transparent comprehensive scientific review" and to "prohibit the use of categorical exclusions (exemptions from environmental review) to authorize offshore fracking and other forms of well stimulation."[20]

According to interviews and drilling records obtained by the Associated Press in October 2013, energy companies employed offshore fracking at least 203 times at six locations over the past two decades. The drilling sites included waters off Long Beach, Seal Beach, and Huntington Beach, all popular tourist areas.[21]

In 2015 the Center for Biological Diversity and the Santa Barbara-based Environmental Defense Center separately sued the Department of Interior for allegedly fast tracking drilling applications without updated environmental review offshore in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. The Department of Interior began settlement discussions with both groups.[22] The settlement to the lawsuit prompted an offshore fracking moratorium off the California coast. A press release by the Center for Biological Diversity stated that the "agreement requires the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement to analyze the environmental dangers of offshore fracking and acidization under the National Environmental Policy Act. The settlement also prohibits federal officials from authorizing these inherently dangerous practices in federal waters until that analysis is concluded."[23]

The lawsuit alleged that the BSEE and the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) had approved 51 permit applications to ExxonMobil and Venoco for offshore fracking or acidification in federal waters off the Santa Barbara coast in the past 18 months. The Santa Barbara Independent reported that the federal agencies granted all 51 applications “categorical exemptions,” where no public notice or environmental analysis was given was needed before approval.

The EDC argues that the fragile geology of offshore requires environmental review.[24] The EDC said use of chemicals such as hydrofluoric acid to dissolve rock poses risks from drilling to discharging in the ocean.[25]

The BOEM and BSEE will have to complete an environmental review by the end of May 2016 then decide if a more in-depth analysis is necessary. The public will have 30 days to comment.The agencies will also have to make future permit applications publicly available.[26]

According to the Environmental Defense Center fracking has been permitted off the coast of California since the 1980s, this is the first attempt for an environmental review. But the Environmental Defense Center called the draft review published in February lacking.

The draft concludes that the hydraulic fracturing and acidizing will have no environmental impacts.[27]

Santa Barbara All American Pipeline Spill

On May 19, 2015 a rupture in a pipeline owned by All American Pipeline caused over 142,800 gallons to spill on the beach and ocean. It is commonly known as the Refugio Oil Spill named after Refugio Beach located just north of Santa Barbara where the majority of the crude landed.

State wildlife workers would eventually collect and tall both dead and live birds and animals from the spill. The tally would include 202 dead birds, 65 live ones, 99 dead mammals, including 15 dolphins, ​and 63 live mammals. Sixty nine pelicans, sea lions, loons, and others would be treated and later freed.[28] Sea mammals were found washed up in the cities of Ventura and Oxnard south of the spill.

Federal regulators from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration determined in February 2016 that external corrosion was the cause of the spill.[29]

The Santa Barbara Independent reported that federal regulators determined that All American Pipeline employees waited 89 minutes to report the spill.[30]

More than onshore and offshore oil employees facilities lost their jobs because oil was no longer transported through the area.[31]

ExxonMobil’s Heritage, Harmony, and Hondo platforms were out of commission after the Refugio Oil Spill shut down the All American Pipeline.

Venoco was one of several local operating companies negatively effected by the pipeline spill. On February 16, 2016 Venoco missed submitting its $13.7 million semi-annual interest payment. Venoco, ExxonMobil, Freeport-McMoRan offshore oil platforms ceased operating shortly after the spill because the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration shut down pipelines moving crude oil to refineries. In November 2015, Venoco reported a net loss of $203.3 million for the third quarter.[32]

Frac Packing

According to a paper presented at Pioneer Oil Producers Society (POS), frac pack developed as a way to control sand in the well especially many poorly cemented sandstone formations in the Gulf of Mexico and offshore. The sand from the formation would plug the perforations and fill the tubing. the oil industry spent effort in the 1960’s trying to fix this issue. By 1980 gravel pack completions became commonplace. With frac packing the gravel used was like the sand used in hydraulic fracturing. Frac packing uses highly pressure water, gravel and chemicals to clear sand from the opening of the well and facilitate the flow from the well.[33]


According to a Truthout investigation, an offshore driller called Dos Cuadras Offshore Resources (DCOR) had been granted permits for four “mini fracs,” also also known frac pac, exploration projects in the Santa Barbara Channel off California’s Central Coast. [34]

According to Truthout’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) documents, the four DCOR frac pacs were approved under minor modifications to existing drilling permits that already were “categorically excluded” from extensive environmental review. BSEE issues these exclusions when reviews indicate that an activity is not expected to have significant impacts on the environment.

Gulf of Mexico

According to an Al Jazeera BSEE investigation, frac packing more common than hydraulic fracturing in the Gulf. [35]

Ocean Waste Discharge

On the platforms at sea, water flowing back from fracked and acidized wells is cleaned up on near the well by filtering out hydrocarbons and other contaminants. The treated wastewater is then dumped overboard into the vast expanse of the Gulf of Mexico, where dilution renders it harmless, according to companies and regulators.

Halliburton is one company selling products to filter waste before discharging into the ocean after drilling or “well completions” as fracking. [36]

The treatment process is mandated under Environmental Protection Agency regulations.


The federal government has given oil companies permission to dump more than 9 billion gallons of wastewater a year directly into the ocean off California’s coast. [37]

The Environmental Defense Center found that in 2015 oil companies discharged seven million liters of drilling fluid, 2,313 metric tons of solid drill cuttings, and 9.4 billion liters of produced water from the 23 offshore oil platforms located in federal waters offshore directly into the ocean.[38]

Gulf of Mexico

How much waste Gulf of Mexico drillers can discharge in the ocean is still unknown. There is no government tracking of discharges.

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, the federal government allows offshore drillers to discharge fracking chemicals mixed with wastewater directly into the waters of the Gulf, but the government can’t say how much oil waste is being dumped into the ocean because it’s not tracking such discharges. The Center for Biological Diversity is suing and more information about wastewater dumping may be revealed.[39]

Methane Hydrate

Methane hydrates are crystalline structures of ice and methane. The methane sits inside a cage of water molecules. Offshore around the globe has methane hydrate reserves, also known as fire ice.[40]. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, methane hydrate's chief constituent is natural gas. It is encased in ice. Cold and gravity create a high pressure situation. When methane hydrate is warmed or depressurized, it will revert back to water and natural gas and cause the methane to bubble away

The process to extract the methane hydrate is different than hydraulic fracturing, but both processes inject fluid at high pressure.[41]

Methane hydrates are located in mud, sand, permafrost and on the sea floor throughout the world in amounts possibly higher than all other fossil fuels combined.[42]

Dr. James Kennett at University of California, Santa Barbara points out that one worry about global warming is that the increase in ocean temperatures will destabilize methane hydrates at relatively shallow ocean depths that reinforce global warming. This appears already to be occurring in the ocean.[43]

Department of EnergyO’s methane hydrates program was launched in 2000 to investigate hydrates as a fuel.[44]

Alaska Methane Hydrate

In 2007 BP, the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Geological Survey drilled a Mount Elbert methane hydrate stratigraphic test well at Milne Point on the North Slope. Tests in this well demonstrated the possibility of depressuring the methane hydrates by extracting water from the methane hydrate reservoir. In April 2011 ConocoPhillips drilled the Ignik Sikumi methane hydrate test well in the Prudhoe Bay unit on the North Slope. The well passed through the permafrost layer to get the and extended below the base of methane hydrate deposits. [45]

A University of New Hampshire professor has identified a new source of Arctic methane hydrates. The findings published in the May 2015 Journal of Geology, point to a previously undiscovered, stable reservoir for abiotic methane, produced in seafloor crust. This is methane not generated by decomposing carbon.[46]

Hydrates are believed to be spread widely across the North Slope.

If the methane can be produced economically it would add a huge new gas resource to backstop a planned North Slope natural gas pipeline.

The Alaska North Slope is located on the northern slope of the Brooks Range along the coast of two marginal seas of the Arctic Ocean and the Chukchi Sea.[47]

Gulf of Mexico Methane Hydrate

Chevron Corporation led a testing program to locate methane hydrates in the Gulf of Mexico but although hydrates were found in sand formations, which would theoritically make good reserves. Chevron has since dropped out of the program.[48]

University of Texas, Ohio State, Columbia University, the Consortium for Ocean Leadership, and the U.S. Geological Survey. researchers are sampling methane hydrates in the Gulf. An estimated 250 years worth of gas at current consumption rates.[49]

The Department of Energy is giving $41,270,609 for the Gulf research.

Japan Methane Hydrate

The Japanese government has succeeded in extracting methane hydrate from the bottom of the Sea of Japan under the ocean floor off Niigata, Akita and Yamagata prefectures.[50]

Offshore Hydraulic Fracturing Providers

Offshore hydraulic fracturing providers include Halliburton, Baker Hughes Inc. and Superior Energy Services Inc., and Schlumberger Ltd.

Industry groups



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  3. U.S. Energy Information Administration, "Petroleum & Other Liquids,", Retrieved October 31, 2015.
  4. Mike Ludwig, "Regulators Butt Heads With Activists Over Assessment of Offshore Fracking Hazards," Truthout, February 24, 2016.
  5. "Exclusive: Extent of stealth fracking in Gulf of Mexico revealed " By Paul Abowd , Al Jazeera America, Feb. 13, 2015.
  6. "Exclusive: Extent of stealth fracking in Gulf of Mexico revealed " By Paul Abowd , Al Jazeera America, Feb. 13, 2015.
  7. "Scaling up production: Deepwater production goes big with Chevron’s Jack/St. Malo Project" By Chevron, Retrieved August 8, 2015.
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  18. 18.0 18.1 Mike Ludwig, "Special Investigation: Fracking in the Ocean Off the California Coast," Truthout, July 25, 2013.
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  21. [ "For Calif. officials, offshore fracking flew under the radar,"] E&E, October 22, 2013.
  22. "Federal challenges, local control dominate year in litigation," Ellen M. Gilmer, E&E, December 22, 2015.
  23. "Lawsuit Prompts Offshore Fracking Moratorium Off California Coast" Center for Biological Diversity, Kristen Monsell, January 29, 2016.
  24. "EDC Wins Greater Regulatory Scrutiny for Offshore Fracking Discovers 51 Permits Issued Without Notice or Environmental Scrutiny," Nick Welsh, The Santa Barbara Independent, January 30, 2016.
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  26. "US to stop approving oil fracking off California coast until review is complete," Associated Press, January 29, 2016.
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  28. "Refugio Reviewed Did We Learn Our Lesson on Pipeline Safety?" By Kelsey Brugger, Santa Barbara Independent, December 24, 2015.
  29. "More Details on Ocean Fracking Revealed as Environmentalists Challenge Federal Regulators" By Lena Garcia, Santa Barbara Independent, September 15, 2015.
  30. "More Details on Ocean Fracking Revealed as Environmentalists Challenge Federal Regulators" By Lena Garcia, Santa Barbara Independent, September 15, 2015.
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  33. "History and Technology of Hydraulic Fracturing" By Joe Dunn Clegg, Presented at the March 16, 2015 POPS Meeting.
  34. "More Details on Ocean Fracking Revealed as Environmentalists Challenge Federal Regulators" By Mike Ludwig, Truthout October 10, 2013.
  35. "Exclusive: Extent of stealth fracking in Gulf of Mexico revealed " By Paul Abowd , Al Jazeera America, Feb. 13, 2015.
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  39. "California's Controversial Oil Drilling" By Farron Cousins, Desmog, June 7, 2015.
  40. "Methane hydrate offshore is tempting, perilous natural gas" By Bo Peterson , The Post Courier January 5, 2014.
  41. "Methane Hydrate" By U.S. Department of Energy. Retrieved September 18, 2015.
  42. "Enough CO2 To Worry About" By Jeff McMahon. Retrieved May 8, 2015.
  43. "UCSB Researchers Decipher History of Paleoclimate Change, Find Modern-Day Takeaways" Noozhawk, December 3, 2015.
  44. "Enough CO2 To Worry About" By Jeff McMahon. Retrieved May 8, 2015.
  45. "Promising results DOE publishes more findings from North Slope methane hydrate test well" Alan Bailey, Petroleum News, April 26, 2015.
  46. "Geologist identifies new source of methane for gas hydrates in Arctic", March 30, 2015.
  47. "Another round of Slope methane hydrate research planned" By Tim Bradner, Alaska Journal of Commerce, July 15, 2015.
  48. "Another round of Slope methane hydrate research planned" By Tim Bradner, Alaska Journal of Commerce, July 15, 2015.
  49. "UT Austin to Lead $58 Million Effort to Study Potential New Energy Source" UT News, Oct. 22, 2014.
  50. "Methane hydrate extracted from Sea of Japan" By Tim Bradner, Japan Times, December 15, 2014.

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