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Offshore Fracking’s Threat to California’s Ocean, Air and Seismic Stability

A Report from the Center for Biological Diversity - September 2014.

Californians recently discovered that oil companies have fracked more than 200 offshore wells along the state’s southern coast. Offshore fracking blasts water and industrial chemicals into the seafloor at high pressures to crack rocks and release oil and gas.

With little or no oversight from state and federal regulators, the oil industry has fracked offshore wells near Huntington Beach, Long Beach and Seal Beach, as well as in federal waters in the Santa Barbara Channel.

To determine the risks of offshore fracking in California, scientists with the Center for Biological Diversity analyzed independent scientific evidence, including the 2014 report by California Council on Science and Technology; published scientific studies; industry data; and state and federal information.

This report analyzes the following dangers associated with offshore fracking:

  1. Toxic fracking chemicals’ threats to California’s marine life, including already threatened species such as blue whales and sea otters,
  2. Health risks to coastal communities and climate damage caused by hazardous air pollutants released during offshore fracking,
  3. Increased earthquake risk linked to fracking and the injection of fracking wastewater into disposal wells, and
  4. Unique environmental concerns raised because fracking in California occurs at shallower depths and with higher concentrations of chemicals than in other areas.


  1. Toxic discharges: Oil platforms off California’s coast are permitted to dump 9 billion gallons of wastewater, including fracking chemicals, into the ocean each year.
  2. Wildlife threats: At least 10 fracking chemicals routinely used offshore in California could kill or harm a broad variety of marine species, including sea otters, fish and benthic invertebrates. Some chemicals used in California fracking are acutely toxic to mammals, and many others have not been evaluated for toxicity or effects from acute and chronic exposure.
  3. Hazardous air pollution: Fracking increases air pollution and can expose coastal communities to air pollutants that cause cancer and other illnesses. Most offshore frack jobs have occurred within three miles of the coast, near communities like Long Beach.
  4. Earthquake risk: Injecting fracking wastewater underground can induce earthquakes, and all of Southern California’s offshore injection wells are within three miles of an active fault.

These findings underscore the inherent risks of hydraulic fracturing in fragile ocean ecosystems. This toxic practice threatens to contaminate California’s air and ocean, endanger marine wildlife and compromise the safety and well-being of coastal communities. To protect public health and the environment, California must halt offshore fracking.


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