OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) - California illegally hands out oil- and gas-drilling leases without "tracking, monitoring, or otherwise supervising the high-risk, unconventional injection practice" of fracking, the Center for Biological Diversity claims in court.
The environmental group sued the California Department of Conservation's Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) in Alameda County Court.
DOGGR regulates onshore and offshore oil and gas drilling in California. It is also tasked with monitoring oil and gas wells to "prevent damage to life, health, property, and natural resources or damage to underground and surface waters ... by the infiltration of, or the addition of, detrimental substances," according to the complaint states.
But the Center for Biological Diversity claims DOGGR is shirking its duties by letter oil and gas drillers use hydraulic fracturing with no monitoring at all, in violation of the agency's own Underground Injection Control program.
"In fact, DOGGR has admitted that it does not know where or how often hydraulic fracturing occurs in California, how much water is required, or what chemicals are injected underground in fracking fluids, and has admitted that it does not have any information regarding the safety, efficacy, or necessity of the practice," the complaint states.
California is the fourth-largest producer of oil in the country, behind Texas, North Dakota and Alaska. Its 51,394 oil wells and 1,567 gas wells produced "approximately 200 million barrels of oil and 225 billion cubic feet of gas" in 2010, according to the complaint.
Another 2,300 new wells were drilled in 2011, the complaint states.
The Western States Petroleum Association reported that 628 of the state's oil and gas wells were fracked in 2011. But the Center for Biological Diversity says there is no way to know how many wells in the state are being fracked because DOGGR does not require well operators to say when they use fracking.
It claims that DOGGR's failure to monitor fracking is worrisome given the "significant environmental and human health hazards" associated with it.
Fracking has set off lawsuits and legislative battles all over the country. It has been prohibited in some enormous watersheds by cities and water districts that fear contamination of drinking water, and oil companies have gone to court to fight cities' and water districts' power to prohibit it.
A supine Legislature in Pennsylvania made it illegal in that state to state publicly what chemicals are injected into the soil in fracking, claiming it was a "trade secret." A physician took Pennsylvania to court for that, on constitutional grounds, claiming there is no secret at all to the process, but that the state was trying to muzzle him from talking about patients who have been hurt by contaminated water.
The Center for Biological Diversity says in its complaint: "Hydraulic fracturing is the injection into newly drilled or existing wells of water, toxic chemicals, and sand or other materials that hold fissures open ('proppants') at pressures high enough to break and fracture tight shale formations, allowing the oil or gas within them to flow into the wells. Recent technical developments and improvements in hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling have made these activities economical, and oil and gas production from fracking has spiked dramatically in the United States in the last few years."
The environmental group claims that the economic advantages of fracking are not worth the risks it poses to people and the environment.