Lawsuit Seeks To Force EPA To Regulate Fracking Waste

It's been nearly 30 years since the agency has examined whether to regulate it.
A jar holding wastewater from fracking is held up to the light at a recycling site in Midland, Texas, in 2013.
A jar holding wastewater from fracking is held up to the light at a recycling site in Midland, Texas, in 2013.

WASHINGTON -- Environmental advocates filed suit against the Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday, an attempt to force the agency to issue regulations on the disposal of waste from the natural gas extraction process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

The groups want regulators to issue rules that would govern the disposal of waste from fracking, a process that uses a high-pressure stream of water, chemicals and sand to tap into shale formations and release gas. Right now, the wastewater is injected into underground wells, held in containment ponds or impoundments on site, shipped to regular landfills, or spread on fields and roads.

The Environmental Integrity Project, Natural Resources Defense Council, Earthworks, Responsible Drilling Alliance, San Juan Citizens Alliance, West Virginia Surface Owners’ Rights Organization, and the Center for Health, Environment and Justice have filed the suit. The groups initially threatened to sue on this issue last year.

They cite concerns about the estimated 2 billion gallons of waste fluids that are injected into the ground per day. Recent research has linked wastewater injection sites to more earthquakes in some parts of the United States. They argue that many current methods of the waste disposal "threaten public health and the environment."

The groups would like the EPA to regulate the issue under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, or RCRA, a 1976 law governing disposal of solid and hazardous wastes. Congress amended RCRA in 1980 to exempt "drilling fluids, produced water, and other wastes associated with the exploration, development, or production of crude oil or natural gas" until the EPA examined any potential adverse effects on human health and the environment and determined whether to issue regulations under the law's subtitle dealing with hazardous wastes, subtitle C.

The EPA determined in 1988 that oil and gas wastes should be exempt from regulation under that subtitle. The groups say the EPA should still have to evaluate whether the waste merits regulation under another subtitle, D, that deals with nonhazardous waste.

These organizations have been trying to get the EPA to at least review the regulations on fracking waste for years but "never really received any traction on that," EIP senior attorney Adam Kron told The Huffington Post.

"As far was we can tell, EPA doesn't have any intent to revise these rules in the near future," he said. "Putting aside the fact that it's been 30 years, the oil and gas industry is booming. We have so much more waste in the past five to 10 years. EPA has a legal requirement to do this, to review and revise the rules every three years under RCRA."

An EPA spokeswoman declined to comment, because the agency "does not comment on pending litigation."

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