The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wants to know if wastewater produced during oil and gas production could be treated and discharged into lakes and rivers, rather than disposed of underground.
EPA said today will take a "holistic look" at the regulation and management of wastewater from conventional oil and gas production and from hydraulic fracturing. Among the ideas the agency is considering is whether there is support for regulations to allow "broader discharge" into surface water.
Oil and gas production generates large volumes of wastewater, often with high levels of salt and metal. The industry disposes of most of its wastewater through injection wells into underground aquifers. But EPA said it has becoming evident there are limits in how much wastewater can be disposed of in that manner in some areas. Oklahoma has restricted underground disposal because of concerns of links to earthquakes. And there have been concerns about disposing of water in areas where water is scarce.
EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, who had close ties to oil and gas producers in Oklahoma when he was the attorney general there, said he was pleased the study would consider ways to develop "effective options and alternatives to better manage wastewater" from the oil and gas industry.
EPA said it will reach out to industry, states and other groups as it gathers information for its study. After the study is complete, EPA said it will decide if future actions are appropriate.
EPA in 2016 prohibited oil and gas producers from sending their wastewater to public treatment plants, which it said at the time were ill-equipped to handle the large volumes of produced water from the industry. Pennsylvania oil producers sued over the change, and EPA is now considering if changes are warranted.
EPA separately reached a settlement with environmentalists in 2016 where it agreed to review its standards for disposing, handling and storing oil and gas wastewater by March 2019. Environmentalists at the time said states had too much flexibility in how to handle and dispose of wastewater, leading wastes to be stored in temporary storage pits or sprayed on roads as a deicing fluid.
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