The Rules on Oil & Gas Fracking Need Updating

by Duane Nichols on December 30, 2016

"Residual Waste" is potent fracking wastewater

Court tells EPA to review its rules on oil and gas waste

From an Article by Jon Hurdle, PA StateImpact, December 29, 2016

Photo: A truck delivers drilling waste water to a frack water recycling plant in Susquehanna County, PA

A federal court directed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to review and possibly update its regulations on oil and gas waste, in a decision that was welcomed by environmental groups who had sued the agency, claiming its rules have failed to keep pace with the fracking boom.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued a consent decree late Wednesday saying the EPA must review the regulations, and if necessary issue a new rulemaking if it deems an update to be appropriate. The actions must take place by March 2019, the court said.

The consent decree, which is designed to settle a dispute between two parties without either admitting guilt or liability, is the outcome of a lawsuit against EPA by seven environmental groups who claimed that the agency has failed to review oil and gas waste regulations, as required every three years under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976.

In the suit, filed in May, the plaintiffs said existing regulations are too weak to stop the escape of toxic materials such as benzene and mercury that have been used in the fracking boom since the mid-2000s.

The environmental groups including the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Integrity Project argued that EPA should use the law to stop drillers spreading fracking waste on fields and roads, and require landfills and pond that receive fracking waste to install liners that prevent leakage.

The suit also urged EPA to use the rules to address the disposal of waste water in underground injection wells, a practice that has been linked to earthquakes in several states.

On Thursday, the plaintiffs welcomed the court’s decision. “This consent decree is a step in the right direction toward fulfilling EPA’s duty to the public,” said Adam Kron, senior attorney at the Environmental Integrity Project.  “EPA has known since 1988 that its rules for oil and gas wastes aren’t up to par, and the fracking boom has made them even more outdated.”

Amy Mall, senior policy analyst for NRDC, said that any move by the incoming Trump administration to block the decree would leave the government in violation of the court order. “We are certainly very hopeful that the incoming administration will not violate the federal government’s legal commitments,” she said.

Among the incidents that could have been averted by updated EPA regulations, was one in Tioga County, Pennsylvania in 2012 when a pond holding 6 million gallons of fracking waste water leaked pollutants including strontium and arsenic into groundwater and a nearby stream.

The EPA referred an inquiry to the U.S. Department of Justice, which declined to comment. A spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute could not be reached for comment.

The other plaintiffs were Earthworks, San Juan Citizens Alliance, West Virginia Surface Owners Rights Organization, the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, and the Responsible Drilling Alliance.

>  >  >  >  >  >  >  >  >  >  >

Obama’s Grand Finale on Fracking Is Too Little, Too Late

From an Article by Mike Ludwig, Truthout News, December 14, 2016

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has finally admitted what the rest of us already know: Sometimes fracking pollutes drinking water.

On Tuesday, the EPA issued a report on fracking’s impacts on drinking water supplies. The media described the report as “long-awaited” and “highly anticipated” because it’s taken the EPA more than half a decade to put it together.

The first draft of the report was issued last year and recently became mired in controversy after journalists discovered that officials sought to downplay its most controversial findings by inserting language at the last minute. Now, in the final days of the Obama administration, the EPA is coming clean.

For those seeking stronger water protections, the report is way too little, way too late. Yes, advocates can use the report to challenge attempts by the incoming Trump administration to slash environmental regulations, but don’t expect Donald Trump’s EPA to read it and propose new ones.

What does the report say? In summary, fracking can pollute sources of drinking water when operators build faulty wells, suck up limited groundwater resources, suffer accidents and spills involving toxic fracking chemicals, or store fracking wastewater contaminated with these chemicals in unlined pits.

These problems don’t always happen, but they can and have in the past. What remains unclear is how often. In a fact sheet, the EPA said that “data gaps and uncertainties made it difficult to fully assess impacts” both nationally and in local areas. Such data is often difficult to collect or not collected at all, and oil and gas companies have locked some of it away in non-disclosure agreements resulting from lawsuits over fracking pollution.

Environmental watchdogs and journalists like myself have been cataloguing these problems for years, and they are not the only problems caused by the fracking boom. From silica mines blowing cancerous dust to earthquakes linked to wastewater disposal in underground wells, fracking has left its mark on the environment and communities across the country.

Over the past decade, the rapid deployment of enhanced hydraulic fracturing technology quickly industrialized rural areas, bringing communities from boom to bust. Oil and gas reserves grew, prices dropped and the industry rushed to build pipelines and expand exports. The US secured its so-called energy independence just as concerns over climate disruption and our addiction to fossil fuels reached a fever pitch.

Some people got rich, and some people got dirty water.

If the EPA’s report tells us anything we haven’t heard before, it’s about the nature of the EPA and the administration that’s been running it for the past eight years. Fracking is one of the biggest stories of the Obama administration, which saw natural gas as a “bridge fuel” that could reduce the nation’s reliance on burning coal and help the US meet international climate goals.

In the meantime, President Obama had to keep both a hungry industry and environmentalists happy. This got complicated when people who had nothing to do with the environmental movement joined the chorus of fracking’s critics after rigs and pipelines popped up in their neighborhoods and dirty water started flowing from their taps.

There are always winners and losers when it comes to resource extraction and the pollution it creates. Backed by laws like the Clean Water Act, the EPA has some say in the matter. Outside of legislative bodies, the agency is the designated federal space where industry, environmental activists and people who suffer from the impacts of pollution butt heads and attempt to codify their interests into public policy.

When making big decisions, the EPA takes comments from all sides, just as the authors of the fracking report heard from health professionals, the industry and the people affected by it. Eventually it makes a decision that attempts to reach a compromise between competing interests without straying too far from the political agenda of the administration that runs it. When one or more parties remain unsatisfied, the dispute often spills out into the courts.

This process is lengthy and arduous, which is one reason why it took the EPA years to complete an assignment from Congress and determine whether fracking could be compromising drinking water. In the meantime, fracking altered the landscape in huge swaths of the country, leaving people worried about their air and water, and health problems, such as respiratory disorders and premature births.

To the agency’s credit, the EPA did establish some modest regulations of air pollution and climate-warming methane leaks generated by oil and gas production, but these rules could be rolled back or simply not enforced under the Trump administration. The EPA isn’t useless — it made some ambitious strides under Obama that were met by a barrage of lawsuits — but its mission appears perpetually inhibited by institutional politics.

The Obama EPA’s final word on fracking makes it clear that we cannot rely solely on the government to protect us from pollution. People across the country are already aware of this. From Standing Rock in North Dakota to the oil fields of the Gulf South, people are taking matters into their own hands, defiantly putting their very bodies in the way of pipelines and fossil fuel production.

Now is the time to join them. We may not all live in the shadow of a pipeline or a fracking rig, but we all live in the shadow of climate disruption. If we keep burning this stuff, then we all lose.

See also:

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: