EPA Plans to Issue Rules for Fracking Wastewater

EPA Plans to Issue Rules for Fracking Wastewater: Scientific American.

 

Image: NETL.gov

The EPA took another step toward tightening oversight of hydraulic fracturing today, announcing it would initiate a process to set national rules for treating wastewater discharged from gas drilling operations.

Until now, the agency has largely left it to states to police wastewater discharges. Some have allowed drillers to pump waste through sewage treatment plants that aren’t equipped to remove many of the contaminants, leading to pollution in some rivers and to problems at drinking water facilities.

Cynthia Dougherty, EPA’s director of ground water and drinking water, told a Senate panel today that the agency has an important role to play in bolstering state standards.

“I wouldn’t say they’re inadequate,” she said of states’ regulations, “but they could use the help.”

When drillers frack a gas well, they inject thousands of gallons of chemicals, some of which are highly toxic even at low concentrations. When the fluid comes back up, it carries extremely salty water that can contain heavy metals and radioactive elements.

In Western states, most drilling wastewater is injected deep underground for permanent storage. There are fewer injection wells in the East, however, so much of the waste from drilling in the Marcellus Shale? was initially discharged into surface waters.

The EPA has the authority to issue permits for such discharges, but current rules allow shale gas drillers to pass their waste through public sewage plants even if those plants are not equipped to remove pollutants. (There are currently no rules covering wastewater from coalbed methane drilling, a type of gas production that drills into coal seams, so those wastes can be discharged without treatment.)

For years, Pennsylvania allowed growing volumes of wastewater to flow into the state’s rivers. As ProPublica reported two years ago, the water’s high salt and mineral content was believed to have elevated pollutant levels in some streams. It also may have clogged industrial equipment, killed fish and caused contamination in drinking water.

In March, the EPA sent a letter to environmental officials in Pennsylvania expressing alarm at high pollutant levels in the wastewater that was being discharged into the state’s waterways. The agency urged the state to increase monitoring. The next month, the state asked drillers to stop discharging waste unless it was properly treated. By June, state officials said that no waste was being discharged without full treatment.

In an email to ProPublica, the EPA said that concerns about releases in Pennsylvania and “other information” led the agency to initiate the process to set new national rules. The agency said about 22 billion gallons of wastewater from coalbed methane drilling go into surface waters across the country each year. The EPA does not have data on how much shale gas wastewater is being discharged nationwide.

“This is just a really good opportunity to be able to track the amount and the content of the waste at these wells,” said Jason Pitt, a spokesman for the Sierra Club. “You really can’t treat these chemicals as they come up without really knowing what’s in them.”

The Independent Petroleum Association of America issued a statement today saying it would work with the EPA to develop new standards and noted that drillers are increasingly cleaning and reusing their wastewater. Officials in Pennsylvania and at the EPA have said that increased recycling has been an important factor in reducing wastewater discharges.

The EPA said it would propose wastewater rules for coalbed methane drilling in 2013. Similar rules covering shale gas will come a year later, after the agency gathers more data on discharges.

The plan is one of several recent moves to increase federal oversight of fracking. Earlier this year, the EPA proposed rules that would limit air emissions from fracking operations. The Interior Department?, which regulates drilling on federal lands, has said it will issue rules covering fracking within the month.

 

From ProPublica.org (find the original story here); reprinted with permission.

 

7 Comments

Add Comment

View
  1. 1. JamesDavis 04:28 PM 10/21/11
    All of this drilling from wells and mines that is causing the waste water pollution should be shut down and not allowed to continue and no new permits issued until the EPA has these rules in place. It doesn’t make sense to wait a hundred years before regulating these dangerous polluting companies. Them dragging their heels as long as they have have cost many lives and ego systems. A job is not worth that many human and animal lives or endangering human health. They can wait until the EPA has these rules in place and when these companies disregard these rules, like they do in West Virginia, there should be at least a $50 to $100 million dollar fine or every rule they break or disreguard. I bet they will follow the rules then.

    Reply | Report Abuse | Link to this

  2. 2. David Russell in reply to JamesDavis 10:56 PM 10/21/11
    The EPA will be extinct shortly. The current congress has made it a mission to destroy the EPA and any other regulatory commission in place and because they hold the purse strings it will happen either overtly or covertly by simply not funding it. Meanwhile Republicans shed crocodile tears over the long overdue reduction of NASA which might actually cause jobs and allow for new and creative manufacturing in both vacuum and microgravity environments not to mention a possible venture in sharing space with the public.

    A lot of that will depend on us getting off our butts and start to use Carbon for more than burning and that included CH4. Two Nobel prizes were awarded for graphene and now quasi-crystals have taken another one. What else is happening but very under the radar is the growth of nanotubes, diamond seeding (creating 2K diamonds from small seeds in high pressure carbon rich atmospheres) and the use of carbon composites as both metallic type materials and ceramics that are more malleable and yet harder than steel, titanium etc.

    There was an article in Dec 2010 describing the creation of H2 and O2 at rates of 3000 times the input and in a just in time type of production based on knowledge that was presented in 1993. What was new is that the process is on demand, prolific and sustainable. The upside is that both products burn and oxidizing H2 creates water as the waste product.

    Artificial leaves are being developed using Si which is interesting but again Carbon, Nitrogen, Oxygen, Iron and Sulfur are abundant, cheap and could create fuels that burn clean, materials that are lighter, conductive, semi-conductive and non-conductive with the current materials science we have developed using nano tubes and graphine.

    Will this get funded? Probably not because the political system is bought and paid for by big oil, pharmaceuticals, Wall Street and not by the people that are doing this research. There was some very interesting science being done by MIT where viruses were being custom tipped to create all kind of materials that had the above qualities and the only known use I have heard of to date was the military using them for batteries.

    We have real science that is in the works and in some cases mature but will the EPA and other regulatory sectors will be starved to allow the crap to continue.
    So excuse my pessimism, but I am trying to save enough quarters to buy a congressman.

    Reply | Report Abuse | Link to this

  3. 3. JamesDavis in reply to David Russell 08:35 AM 10/22/11
    I know, David; it is a shame that we have all this science and the republicans are killing it all. You forgot to mention the nuclear auto that GM killed…GM is controlled by the republicans. That car could get over 300,000 miles on 8 grams of thorium. 100 or a 1,000 grams of thorium could power your house or business, probably, forever.

    There is great hopes for graphine batteries, but again it is being underfunded by the republicans.

    I have a whole jar of quarters if you want them.

    Reply | Report Abuse | Link to this

  4. 4. hallmen0601 09:52 AM 10/22/11
    Maybe, just maybe we should stop relying on the federal government to fix locally fixable problems and elect civil SERVANTS who will actually do their jobs for the pay they receive. Companies need to do the same and are much more easily controlled and FORCED to do business correctly, morally, ethically and monetarily feasible. The EPA is in way over their heads and in need of being controlled to enforce rules and gers already in place. They are not here to take over price fixing and negotiating FOR unions so the Federal Government may covertly rule through back-door politics and smile while stealing your empowerment that can and will develop the new technologies for peace and prosperity belonging to the many, not the few legal thieves in corporate dominance and political back-door payoffs scandals.

    Reply | Report Abuse | Link to this

  5. 5. innovation 02:43 PM 10/23/11
    There are several problems with your line of reasoning. First, these shale fields extend over the area of several states. In order to compete with one another, states will face significant pressure to lower environmental standards. Second, the pollution caused by this practice, if allowed to continue in its current form, will continue to cross state lines as it contaminates entire river systems and watersheds. Finally, these fields, and the resources they contain, are arguably matters of national security as the represent large portion of our current reserves. Given these arguments alone, we’re faced with issues that are clearly in the federal domain.

    Reply | Report Abuse | Link to this

  6. 6. eco-steve 05:29 PM 10/23/11
    America has a big problem. Republicans refuse to acknowledge the environmental, and especially climatic damage done by US industries. They are just plain lazy and egoistical, expecting that God will take the necessary measures in their place. God only helps those that helps themselves, not those that help themselves to other people’s ressources…. It may well result in UN embargos on american exports….The world will not clear up the mess in their place!

    Reply | Report Abuse | Link to this

  7. 7. HowleyGreen 09:01 PM 10/23/11
    What about requiring all U.S. Senators and Congressmen to pass a basic, high-school level science exam before they can take their oath of office. They can pick their science: biology, chemistry, physics, geology. Doesn’t really matter. We don’t need them all to be scientists. Just familiar with the scientific method.

    John Howley
    http://www.HowleyGreenEnergy.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *