LOS ANGELES — Federal regulators have approved three new fracking jobs off the California coast, more than previously known.
The revelation Wednesday comes as the California Coastal Commission attempts to exercise greater oversight over the contested practice known as hydraulic fracturing, which pumps huge amounts of water, sand and chemicals deep into rock formations to free oil.
The agency launched an investigation into the extent of offshore fracking after The Associated Press last year documented at least a dozen instances of companies using fracking since the 1990s in the Santa Barbara Channel, site of a 1969 oil platform blowout that fouled beaches, and killed birds and other wildlife.
While the federal government oversees fracking that occurs more than three miles off the coast, it has not distinguished the practice from regular drilling in the permit process. The state coastal commission can have a say regarding fracking jobs in federal waters if it determines the work presents a threat to water quality closer to shore, commission staff said at its monthly meeting in Pismo Beach, a beach city 175 miles northwest of Los Angeles.
Through the Freedom of Information Act, the AP found the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, or BSEE, the federal agency in charge of offshore drilling, approved a new project last March.
The bureau on Wednesday confirmed that it approved three other fracking plans by the company DCOR LLC last year on a platform about nine miles offshore in the Santa Barbara Channel. While new oil leases have been prohibited since the 1980s, companies can still drill from about two dozen grandfathered-in platforms.
The work has not begun and it was not immediately clear when it would. DCOR did not respond to a message for comment.
Citing concerns about ocean discharges, commission staffers said the group wants to take a closer look at applications that propose fracking.
After pressure from state lawmakers and residents, the Environmental Protection Agency recently required oil companies planning offshore fracks to report chemicals released into the sea.
The oil industry has insisted the practice is safe. In a letter submitted to the commission before the hearing, the California Independent Petroleum Association said offshore fracking and other well stimulation techniques have occurred for decades without environmental harm.
The group said it is confident that commission staff will find that offshore fracking is already well understood and natural resources fully protected.
BSEE reviews every application for safety and ensures that measures are in place to protect workers and the environment, agency spokeswoman Julia Hagan said in an email.
Fracking has also occurred closer to shore, mostly in the Southern California port city of Long Beach. Unlike fracking in federal waters — where some of the wastewater can be legally dumped overboard — state law bars overboard discharge and most waste fluids are reinjected underground.
Despite calls by environmentalists to ban fracking, the coastal commission said it lacks the power to do so.
AP Writer Jason Dearen in San Francisco contributed to this report.