Environmental Groups Threaten To Sue EPA Over Fracking Wastewater Rules

Coalition cites outdated rules for disposing of wastewater, which can contain carcinogens and radioactive materials.
A jar of fracking wastewater from Midland, Texas.
A jar of fracking wastewater from Midland, Texas.

WASHINGTON -- A coalition of environmental groups is threatening to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for not implementing new regulations on the disposal of wastewater from hydraulic fracturing operations.

The organizations -- which include the Environmental Integrity Project and the Natural Resources Defense Council -- will file a lawsuit if the EPA does not issue rules explaining where and how oil and gas drillers should deal with the water left over from their operations, they told the agency on Wednesday. 

Hydraulic fracturing, often called fracking, uses a high-pressure stream of water, sand and chemicals to tap in to oil and gas reserves within rock formations. The environmental groups are concerned about wastewater injected into the ground -- an estimated 2 billion gallons a day, according to industry estimates -- and cite recent research linking wastewater injection sites to increased seismic activity in some parts of the United States. They also worry about the practice of spreading wastewater on fields and roads to deal with dust and drought, and about the lack of structural requirements for storing wastewater in landfills or ponds.

Wastewater from fracking operations has been found to include carcinogens and radioactive components, they say.

"Oil and gas waste is extremely dangerous -- yet the EPA admitted decades ago that federal rules are inadequate to protect the public," said Matthew McFeeley, an attorney at the NRDC, in a statement. "Toxic waste should not be sent to run-of-the-mill landfills, sprayed on our roads and fields, or stored in open air pits."

The coalition wants the EPA to review and revise how it handles this wastewater under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), which governs waste disposal. They say that while the RCRA requires the agency to review regulations at least every three years, it has been more than 25 years since oil and gas waste rules have been updated.

If the EPA does not take action on fracking waste within 60 days, the coalition says it will file a lawsuit.

"We will review the Notice of Intent and any related information submitted to EPA," agency spokeswoman Laura Allen told The Huffington Post in an email.