LOS ANGELES - Oil and gas companies that are fracking off the Southern California coast must report chemicals discharged into the ocean under a new rule released today by federal environmental regulators.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency published the requirement in the Federal Register, and it will become effective March 1.
The move comes after a series of stories by The Associated Press last year revealed at least a dozen offshore frac jobs in the Santa Barbara Channel, and more than 200 in nearshore waters overseen by the state of California.
Hydraulic fracturing, which involves pumping huge amounts of sand, water and chemicals deep underground to release oil, was conducted with no separate environmental analysis of the fracking chemicals on the sea surroundings, and little or no oversight.
"This requirement was added in response to recent concerns regarding the potential effects of discharges of fluids used for offshore hydraulic fracturing operations," the EPA said in its notice.
The oil industry has insisted that fracking, which has been around for decades, does not harm the environment.
While attention has been focused on fracking on land close to communities, little is known about the practice in the ocean, which uses far less fracking fluids.
Well permits and emails obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show fracking has quietly occurred off Southern California since the late 1990s with mixed success.
After the AP stories were published, the California Coastal Commission launched an investigation. A group of state lawmakers also called on the federal government to look into the practice.
The largest offshore frac was completed in January 2010 by Venoco Inc., which targeted the Monterey Shale, home to one of the nation's largest deposits of shale oil.
"It did not produce the results we expected," Venoco spokeswoman Lisa Rivas said in an email today.
Rivas said the company does not have plans to frac offshore in the future.