Environmental Groups to Sue EPA Over Waste Disposal Rules

A group of environmental organizations plan to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), claiming the agency has failed to update waste disposal rules as required by the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) – which they say should have been revised over 25 years ago – to address waste associated with drilling and hydraulic fracturing activity.

In an Aug. 26 letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, the groups said that the EPA has failed to meet its duty to revise at least once every three years Subtitle D regulations for wastes associated with the exploration, development, or production of oil, natural gas or geothermal energy. According to the groups, the last time EPA conducted a review of these regulations was in 1988, when it revised regulations to promulgate “tailored” regulations for oil and gas wastes.

EPA has also failed to review and update its guidelines for state solid waste management plans, missing 11 successive three year deadlines since the last review and update were conducted in 1981.

The groups say that current rules governing oil and gas wastes are too weak because they are the same rules that apply to all “non-hazardous” wastes, including household trash.

“Both of these sets of regulations are outdated, contain generic provisions that do not specifically address issues relevant to the modern oil and gas industry, fail to adequately protect against potential harm to human health and the environment resulting from oil and gas operations, and urgently need review and revision by the EPA,” the groups stated in the letter.

The groups say they will file a lawsuit in 60 days unless the agency complies with its duty under RCRA to review and revise federal regulations governing how oil and gas waste must be handled and disposed.

The surge in drilling and hydraulic fracturing in shale plays across the United States has created a vast amount of solid and liquid waste, according to an Aug. 26 press statement from the group. For example, improper disposal and handling of hydraulic fracturing and drilling waste include underground injection wells in Ohio, which accepted 22 million barrels of oil and gas wastewater for disposal last year, nearly four times the amount in 2009. As a result, earthquakes have rattled the Youngstown, Ohio area, with one well alone linked to 77 earthquakes.

The groups cited other examples of what they see as problems associated with oil and gas waste, including the spraying of fracking waste fluids onto roads and land near where people live and work; disposing of billions of gallons of oil and gas wastewater in underground injection wells; sending drilling cuttings and fracking sands to landfills not designed to handle toxic or radioactive materials; and storing and disposing of wastewater in pits and ponds, which often leak.

The groups planning the lawsuit include the Environmental Integrity Project, Natural Resources Defense Council, Center for Health, Environment and Justice, West Virginia Citizen Action Group dba West Virginia Surface Owner’s Rights Organization, Responsible Drilling Alliance, and San Juan Citizens Alliance.

These groups have routinely pursued every pathway they can to suppress the development of American oil and natural gas, repeatedly filing petitions and releasing specious reports to rationalize their actions, said Lee Fuller, executive vice president of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, in a statement to Rigzone.

In 1988, EPA’s regulatory determination found that state regulations were adequately managing oil and gas production wastes, said Fuller. More recently, EPA’s report on hydraulic fracturing concluded there was no widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water.

“These analyses demonstrate that states have taken the lead in regulating oil and natural gas production and that they will continue to do so,” Fuller commented. “There is no sense in wasting resources and American tax dollars to compel the EPA to revisit this resolved issue.”

Karen Boman has more than 10 years of experience covering the upstream oil and gas sector. Email Karen at kboman@rigzone.com


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