Environmental Groups Sue California Government Over Fracking

Fracking, or induced hydraulic fracturing, is a technique used to release and extract petroleum and natural gas from deep underground. Those who support the practice argue that it is a means to economically beneficial hydrocarbons, that it provides jobs and that it is not unsafe; opponents and environmental activists say fracking contaminates the ground, water and air around the activities, exposing people, plants and animals to harmful chemicals that would otherwise remain underground.

While some states and countries have banned or limited the practice for these reasons and others, fracking is still widely used. Environmental groups in California have now taken legal action against the state to stop fracking at a time when state regulators are discussing new laws on the practice.

The lawsuit claims the California Department of Conservation, Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources, did not undertake sufficient risk evaluation before using hydraulic fracturing on more than 600 wells last year, reports Reuters.

The suit, which was filed on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity, Earthworks, Environmental Working Group and the Sierra Club, and represented by non-profit environmental law firm, Earthjustice, asks an Alameda County Superior Court judge to consider whether the Division of Oil was in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act when this fracking occurred. It also petitions the court to require a thorough environmental impact report on the effects of fracking before any further use of the extraction technique.

What Are Current Laws on Fracking?

Environmental law
is enforced on the local, state, and federal level. Oil companies would prefer states have the decision making power; while opponents of fracking call for heightened federal regulation, which is enforced primarily through the Environmental Protection Agency. 

Although fracking is not a new approach to extracting oil and natural gas, due to new technologies and higher demand, it has seen a resurgence; and federal regulation has been lax. The practice is even exempt, to some extent, from such federal laws as the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Energy Policy Act of 2005, and others, according to Environmental Defense Center. Some of these statutory omissions include provisions that fracking can be used, except in cases where diesel fuel is involved.

What Other States Are Dealing with Fracking Laws?

California is not the only state with resident concerns over fracking. A recent legal analysis by the National Wildlife Federation found that new regulation needs to be enforced in Ohio and Michigan to protect the region's vast stream, river and lake networks. The report recommends the states enact new laws to perform chemical testing before fracking, to limit the locations of fracking, and govern the disposal process of residual chemicals. But this is easier said than done.

Environmental groups in both New York and Delaware, for example, brought suits seeking environmental reviews of fracking in their states, only to have their cases tossed out by the presiding judge. Some are saying this newest lawsuit in California may meet the same fate.

Read more about state and federal environment regulations here.

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