Three Environmental Agencies have filed a case against the EPA( Environmental Protection Agency) for its failure to update laws for the past 28 years surrounding oil and gas industry waste, despite requirements set by Congress that it review the laws every three years. They blame that due to inaction of the EPA, there has been an increase in health and safety issues.
In 1988, the EPA did review the rules on the books and reported that they needed to be updated, Kron said. Despite concerns expressed at the time about new technology and operation methods that needed to be addressed, the EPA has never issued those rules.
Instead, regulation of the industry, which has increased in size exponentially, has been left to the states, which vary widely in their approach to the problem, Kron said.
Although it is an issue dating back years, the challenges of waste disposal related to oil and gas have been in the news because of fracking and the increase in earthquakes in the U.S. Rex Buchanan, interim director at Kansas Geological Survey, said fracking doesn’t actually cause earthquakes, but the disposal of the saltwater used in the process does.
“These earthquakes are generally attributed to saltwater disposal rather than to the actual fracking,” he said. “It’s important because in effect, the fracking process is a temporary process that releases more oil to be produced. It does create, by definition, almost very small earthquakes, not strong eought to be felt at the surface. The earthquakes that are believed to be produced or manmade are as a result of large volumes of saltwater that’s produced along with the oil.”
But it isn’t only saltwater disposal from fracking that concerns the three groups: EIP, Natural Resources Defense Council and Earthworks. The oil and gas industry also has disposed of waste in open pits and spreading wastewater on roadways, and Kron said open pits are notoriously responsible for contaminating groundwater.
“This failure has real-world effects, as the disposal of this waste can cause health impacts, drinking water contamination and even earthquakes,” Kron said of the EPA’s failure to issue new guidelines.