Vol. 5, No. 14
Topics discussed in this week’s Report include:
- USGS releases report forecasting risks from earthquakes, including induced seismicity.
- GAO report asserts that the EPA oversight of underground injection of oil and gas wastewater is insufficient.
- The public submitted comments on Wyoming DEQ report on alleged groundwater contamination near Pavillion.
- Nebraska: New statute imposes disclosure obligations on operators of injection wells for oil and gas wastewater.
USGS releases report forecasting risks from earthquakes, including induced seismicity. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) released its first-ever short-term forecast of the potential risks over the next year in the central and eastern United States from natural earthquakes, as well as induced earthquakes brought on by human activity. The report documents concerns that one cause of induced seismicity may be underground injection of wastewater. The report predicts that portions of Kansas and Oklahoma have a 5 to 12 percent chance of experiencing a damaging earthquake in 2016 and that 7.9 million people live in areas of the United States with increased risks of induced seismicity.
GAO report asserts that the EPA oversight of underground injection of oil and gas wastewater is insufficient. A recent U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report claims that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is not gathering sufficient information to protect underground sources of drinking water from Class II underground injection wells. Class II wells are used to inject wastewater, primarily salt water, associated with oil and gas production. Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, EPA oversees approved state-run Class II programs and directly operates Class II programs in states without approved programs. The GAO report argues that EPA has failed to both collect enough well-specific data from inspections and to conduct inspections rigorously enough to ensure that it can take appropriate enforcement actions in this area. The report recommends that EPA clarify existing agency guidance on data reporting, require reporting of well-specific data by state-run Class II programs and conduct a human resources evaluation to see if it needs to devote additional resources to Class II issues.
The public submitted comments on Wyoming DEQ report on alleged groundwater contamination near Pavillion. In December 2015, the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) issued a draft report concluding that it was unlikely that hydraulic fracturing caused alleged groundwater contamination near Pavillion, Wyoming. Interested stakeholders submitted comments, including EPA, industry representatives and environmental groups. In its written comments, EPA suggested that uncertainties in the analysis of health concerns associated with domestic well water quality needed to be discussed in the report and asserted that several statements in the report regarding fluid movement and potential sources of constituents were conclusory and would benefit from more robust supporting data and information and a discussion of uncertainties. In contrast, industry commenters supported DEQ’s conclusion that there is no indication of any oil and gas industry or hydraulic fracturing fingerprint associated with the limited organic constituents detected in the water wells and questioned DEQ’s suggestion that additional study be considered. In a related report, last week researchers published an article in Environmental Science and Technology concluding that historic practices of disposing of drilling mud and production fluids in unlined pits had affected domestic wells. EPA had previously issued a widely criticized draft report in December 2011 that concluded that hydraulic fracturing had likely caused groundwater contamination at Pavillion, but in 2013 the agency agreed to support a DEQ study instead of finalizing its own.
Nebraska: New statute imposes disclosure obligations on operators of injection wells for oil and gas wastewater. Nebraska recently enacted bill L.B. 1082, which requires operators of commercial underground injection wells to sample injected fluids at least annually and to send the results to the state’s Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. The new statute also creates a public notice and meeting procedure for potential new injection wells for oil and gas wastewater. Finally, L.B. 1082 requires the state to periodically analyze whether injection well operators have sufficient funds to shut down their wells.
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