EPA Fracking Waste Rules Debated

State officials concerned about maximizing returns from their oil and gas reserves have questions proposed federal regulations around the disposal of wastewater from fracking wells. (image: ecoswitch.com)

Restrictive federal regulation of hydraulic fracturing activity could prevent individual states reaping financial reward from their oil and gas reserves, the Environmental Protection Agency is being warned.

State regulators addressed a congressional committee last week considering proposed plans by the EPA for new regulations on the disposal of polluted wastewater from “fracking” wells, fuelfix.com reported. Officials and committee representatives argued that fracking wastewater disposal should be overseen by state environmental agencies, not the federal government.

The controversial extraction technique injects a mix of chemicals, water and sand at high pressure thousands of feet beneath the earth to free oil and gas reserves trapped in shale rock formations. The technique has sparked a boom in domestic energy production, including liquid natural gases like propane – particularly in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Texas. The industry says fracking is safe, but environmentalists fear it is responsible for water contamination as large quantities of chemical-laced liquid remains trapped underground.

The EPA has taken steps recently to boost federal regulation of fracking and plans to develop national standards for the disposal of wastewater. It is also investigating whether fracking is responsible for contaminating drinking water supplies. But members of the US House Subcommittee on Water Resources and the Environment questioned the EPA’s plans last week, suggesting federal interference could hamper the booming industry.

“We must be sure that the EPA thinks carefully before developing new Clean Water Act standards that would needlessly restrict this important industry and burden it with an additional layer of duplicative federal regulations,” said subcommittee chairman Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio.

Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner Dana Murphy, whose state agency is responsible for regulating the oil and gas industry and disposal of fracking wastewater, feared the EPA would impose a one-size-fits-all approach on individual states.

“The states are the appropriate bodies to regulate the oil and gas drilling industry,” Murphy said. “Protection of water and the environment and the beneficial development of the nation’s resources of oil and gas are not mutually exclusive goals.”

Pennsylvania drilling companies had sent millions of barrels of wastewater to treatment plants which only partially removed contaminants before discharging the water into rivers. The practice has now stopped.

The state’s environmental secretary Michael Krancer denied fracking was responsible for contaminating drinking water.

“It’s total fiction that sewage treatment plants are discharging these terrible waste products into the waterways,” he told the committee.

EPA Wastewater Management Office director James Hanlon said the agency planned to issue a proposed rule in 2014.

“In the coming months, the EPA will carefully consider the impact of regulatory costs to the industry and to subsets of stakeholders such as small business and state and local governments,” Hanlon said. “EPA will also consider potential impacts on jobs and local economies.”

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