EPA Announces Schedule to Develop Natural Gas Wastewater Standards/Announcement is part of administration’s priority to ensure natural gas development continues safely and responsibly

marcellushydraulicfracturing.jpg

Here’s the release from the Environmental Protection Agency (Enesta Jones):

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is announcing a schedule to develop standards for wastewater discharges produced by natural gas extraction from underground coalbed and shale formations. No comprehensive set of national standards exists at this time for the disposal of wastewater discharged from natural gas extraction activities, and over the coming months EPA will begin the process of developing a proposed standard with the input of stakeholders – including industry and public health groups. Today’s announcement is in line with the priorities identified in the president’s Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future, and is consistent with the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board recommendations on steps to support the safe development of natural gas resources.

“The president has made clear that natural gas has a central role to play in our energy economy. That is why we are taking steps — in coordination with our federal partners and informed by the input of industry experts, states and public health organizations — to make sure the needs of our energy future are met safely and responsibly,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “We can protect the health of American families and communities at the same time we ensure access to all of the important resources that make up our energy economy. The American people expect and deserve nothing less.”

Recent technology and operational improvements in extracting natural gas resources, particularly shale gas, have increased gas drilling activities across the country. Production from shale formations has grown from a negligible amount just a few years ago to almost 15 percent of total U.S. natural gas production and this share is expected to triple in the coming decades. The sharp rise in domestic production has improved U.S. energy security and created jobs, and as with any resource the administration is committed to ensuring that we continue to leverage these resources safely and responsibly, including understanding any potential impact on water resources.

Shale Gas Standards:
Currently, wastewater associated with shale gas extraction is prohibited from being directly discharged to waterways and other waters of the U.S. While some of the wastewater from shale gas extraction is reused or re-injected, a significant amount still requires disposal. As a result, some shale gas wastewater is transported to treatment plants, many of which are not properly equipped to treat this type of wastewater. EPA will consider standards based on demonstrated, economically achievable technologies, for shale gas wastewater that must be met before going to a treatment facility.

Coalbed Methane Standards:
Wastewater associated with coalbed methane extraction is not currently subject to national standards for being directly discharged into waterways and for pre-treatment standards. Its regulation is left to individual states. For coalbed methane, EPA will be considering uniform national standards based on economically achievable technologies.

Information reviewed by EPA, including state supplied wastewater sampling data, have documented elevated levels of pollutants entering surface waters as a result of inadequate treatment at facilities. To ensure that these wastewaters receive proper treatment and can be properly handled by treatment plants, EPA will gather data, consult with stakeholders, including ongoing consultation with industry, and solicit public comment on a proposed rule for coalbed methane in 2013 and a proposed rule for shale gas in 2014.

The schedule for coalbed methane is shorter because EPA has already gathered extensive data and information in this area, EPA will take the additional time to gather comparable data on shale gas. In particular, EPA will be looking at the potential for cost-effective steps for pretreatment of this wastewater based on practices and technologies that are already available and being deployed or tested by industry to reduce pollutants in these discharges.

This announcement is part of the effluent guidelines program, which sets national standards for industrial wastewater discharges based on best available technologies that are economically achievable. EPA is required to publish a biennial outline of all industrial wastewater discharge rulemakings underway. EPA has issued national technology-based regulations for 57 industries since 1972. These regulations have prevented the discharge of more than 1.2 billion pounds of toxic pollutants each year into US waters.

More information: http://water.epa.gov/lawsregs/lawsguidance/cwa/304m/

More coverage from Bob Berwyn writing for the Summit County Citizens Voice. From the article:

Information reviewed by EPA, including state-supplied wastewater sampling data, have documented elevated levels of pollutants entering surface waters as a result of inadequate treatment at facilities.

Some of the chemicals in fracking fluids are known carcinogens and the health effects of many additives are not fully understood, in large part because industry officials have refused to disclose precisely what they are using.

Tisha Schuller, President and CEO, Colorado Oil & Gas Association, said wastewater disposal is covered under state regulations. “We are looking over EPA’s information. In the meantime, we want our communities to know that in Colorado, all oil and gas wastewater is handled in accordance with state regulation,” Schuller said. “While there are not federal standards, there are strict state standards through both Colorado Oil and Gas Commission and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for handling and disposal of wastewaters.”

“We applaud the Environmental Protection Agency for announcing it will limit wastewater pollution from gas development, including the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing or fracking,” said Earthjustice attorney Deborah Goldberg.

“The nation is in the midst of a fracking-fueled gas rush which is generating toxic wastewater faster than treatment plants can handle it. The EPA’s proposal is a common sense solution for this growing public health problem and will help keep poisons out of our rivers, streams, and drinking water,” she added.

More coverage from David O. Williams writing for the Colorado Independent. From the article:

Most fracking fluids are treated and recycled or injected into disposal wells deep beneath the groundwater table. Those wells are now a source of controversy because scientists believe they could be linked to earthquake swarms in places like Arkansas, where several wells were shut down recently.

In Colorado, where regulators have been working through a backlog of old spill enforcement cases, officials have said disclosure of fracking fluid chemicals won’t necessarily stop accidental leaks associated with faulty pipelines, well casings or pit liners meant to keep fluids stored for reuse from leaking into groundwater.

The EPA conducted a study of fracking before Congress voted to exempt the process from the Safe Drinking Water Act when it passed the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Now the EPA is conducting what many scientists hope will be a much more thorough examination of the process, including using a test area in Colorado. The agency is also considering drafting tougher air quality standards for fracking operations.

More coverage from The Hill’s E2 Wire weblog (Ben German):

The planned Clean Water Act standards come at a time when Republicans and industry groups are alleging that federal regulations, especially EPA rules, are inhibiting the energy industry and other sectors.

They drew quick skepticism from a member of the Senate’s GOP leadership team.

“[EPA] just continues to make it more difficult to develop some of these domestic energy supplies,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee, told The Hill in the Capitol.

Thune cautioned, though, he was just hearing of the planned rule. “While I would like to give them the benefit of the doubt, based on their track record it is hard to do that,” Thune said, predicting the rules will make domestic energy development tougher and costlier.

Industry groups, while often critical of federal regulators, are holding their fire for now.

“We stand ready to work with EPA and other stakeholders on the development of these guidelines,” said Barry Russell, CEO of the Independent Petroleum Association of America…

Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), who has pressed EPA on the issue, cheered the planned rules. “The EPA is right to heed warnings that the extraction of resources buried deep below the earth can lead to the contamination of the waterways above it,” Markey, a senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, said in a statement. “The public should not have to choose between increased natural gas production and decreased water quality; we can have both with the right rules in place.”

More coverage from Bruce Finley writing for The Denver Post. From the article:

The new standards focus on removal of pollution at wastewater treatment plants and wouldn’t apply to the expanding gas mining across Colorado and other Western states where chemical-laced fracking waste is injected underground and buried, or stored in surface evaporative ponds.

In Colorado, some fracking wastewater is discharged without treatment, under state permit, directly into rivers. Some community groups advocate an overhaul of fracking waste disposal.

The new EPA standards would be set by 2014 and would specify what toxic and cancer-causing chemicals must be removed from wastewater before it is released from treatment plants. EPA leaders cast their move to set standards where none currently exist as essential in the continuing push to increase domestic energy production…

An Aurora-area group called What The Frack called the EPA initiative positive. “But it’s not nearly enough,” said group leader Sonia Skakich-Scrima. “We want no open pits and no underground disposal of the wastewater.”

Industry leaders were looking into the EPA initiative, mindful that companies already face state regulations. “We don’t know anything about this. We’re going to see what the rule-making process will bring,” said Tisha Schuller, president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association. “We just want communities to know that this is already regulated.”[…]

Colorado’s Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is charged with regulating drilling and production statewide. COGCC President David Neslin said he will discuss the EPA initiative with the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission. “To our knowledge, none of the (fracking wastewater) is being treated at wastewater treatment plants,” Neslin said.

About 60 percent of fracking water in Colorado is disposed of in underground pits with COGCC oversight, he said. Another 20 percent is stored in lined surface ponds where water can evaporate. The final 20 percent is discharged into rivers, under permits issued by the water quality control commission. That water, Neslin said, tends to be relatively clean.

More oil and gas coverage here and here. More coalbed methane coverage here and here.

Leave a Reply