Oil companies ask SCOTUS to review court's injunction on California offshore fracking     

U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington
A crosswalk signal is seen outside the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S., June 27, 2022. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz/File Photo
  • 9th Circuit had upheld ban on offshore fracking pending further review by the Department of the Interior
  • Oil cos. say that injunction is premature and sets dangerous precedent

(Reuters) - The American Petroleum Institute and two oil companies want the Supreme Court to review a court order banning fracking off California’s coast, arguing the injunction was premature and sets a dangerous precedent that could be weaponized to challenge critical offshore energy exploration.

ExxonMobil, the American Petroleum Institute and a California refinery told the Supreme Court Wednesday the ban could allow lawsuits to go forward before the federal government finalizes an "agency action" - in this case, before actual fracking applications are even received - and “threatens to stall vital energy projects” beyond the California area.

They said that since there aren't pending applications to begin fracking, the concerns are only hypothetical and legal challenges need to wait until more specific decisions are made by the Interior Department.

“If allowed to stand, the decision below will undermine the development of oil, natural gas and renewable energy on the entire Outer Continental Shelf,” they said.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in June sided with environmentalists who claimed an Obama administration environmental review greenlighting potential fracking off the California coast violated federal environmental laws. The decision largely upheld the district court's order, which effectively banned fracking in federal waters off the state’s shores.

There are currently 14 active oil and gas fields in federal waters off the coast of California, but no pending applications to frack in the region, according to court documents.

The environmental groups claim that offshore fracking is dangerous, and uses at least 10 chemicals that can kill marine animals. The Interior Department defended its environmental assessment that potential fracking wouldn't have a significant impact on the environment in court, and was backed by the fossil fuel interests as intervenors.

Kristen Monsell, the oceans legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement that the circuit court’s ruling was “exceedingly well-reasoned” and that the group hopes the high court rejects the effort to undermine it.

“Fracking is dangerous to whales, sea otters and other marine wildlife, and this dirty, harmful technique has no place in our ocean,” Monsell said.

The case is American Petroleum Institute et al. v. Environmental Defense Center et al., United States Supreme Court, case No. 22A534.

For the fossil fuel interests: Kannon Shanmugam, Brian Lipshutz, Yishai Schwartz and Matthew Disler of Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison.

For the environmental groups at the 9th Circuit: Emily Jeffers, Kristen Monsell and Jean Su of CBD.

For the Interior Department at the 9th Circuit: Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim, Michael T. Gray, Joseph Kim and James Maysonett of the U.S. Justice Department.

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