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More Evidence that Fracking Waste Is Poorly Regulated

A class action lawsuit filed in Arkansas this week has uncovered some very frightening information about the enormous amounts of potentially very toxic waste being generated by the oil and gas industry and how poorly it is regulated. According to a recent investigative report by ProPublica, oil and gas producers have injected 10 trillion gallons of liquid waste underground into more than 150,000 waste disposal wells in 33 states. According to ProPublica, this is often happening even when the operators know the waste disposal wells are out of compliance and could leak.

But it’s not just ProPublica saying this. The article reports that a federal prosecutor stated that it is “common” for the operators of these disposal wells to try to avoid the rules–and that this can lead to contamination of drinking water.

So what happened in Arkansas? According to the lawsuit, operators are injecting oil and gas waste underground in areas that they did not lease for such injection. Landowners who claim their underground space has been violated are suing oil and gas companies. According to the lawsuit, the waste can travel underground for miles –in all directions. It turns out that some of this oil and gas waste was not even staying in the formation where it was injected. It was migrating into a neighboring formation. The only reason anyone knows this is because the neighboring formation was being tapped for natural gas extraction, and the waste was found in gas wells.

The lawsuit and the ProPublica report add to the growing evidence that oil and gas waste in the U.S. is not sufficiently regulated. Not only are the rules too weak, thanks to Congress giving the industry a free pass to pollute years ago, but those on the books are not being enforced. Both state and federal regulators are overwhelmed. Even when violations are found, the penalties are so small that they are not an incentive for companies to clean up their act.

NRDC opposes expanded fracking until effective safeguards are in place. Closing the oil and gas loopholes in our toxic waste laws is just one of the necessary steps toward putting those safeguards in place.

Amy Mall's picture

Thank Amy for the Post!

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Jessee McBroom's picture
Jessee McBroom on October 8, 2012

Thanks for the post Amy. This news is quite disturbing; but not anticipated. The rush to mine the gold syndrome has not changed. Neither have the ethical practices or the lack there of. This only serves to evidence the dire need for the EPA and its' continued service. Unfortunately they too are on the list of annoyaces to business as usual interests in the fossil fuel sector.

Bobbi O's picture
Bobbi O on October 8, 2012

  Amy,

  I don't understand why no one talks about waterless fracking using propane. There are no waste liquids produced as all the propnae is recovered with the natural gas. It works better too.

                J. O.

Ronald Weedbaum's picture
Ronald Weedbaum on October 9, 2012

The industry should be closely regulated and those who don't follow regulations should face stiff penalites.

That being said, nowhere here is there any evidence that drinking water was contaminated. I am not saying it shouldn't be regulated but I have noticed that there are very few cases where the feared contamination has actually occurred.  Lots of "this may happen" or "this can happen" which leads a certain kind of person to react emotionally and interpret it as "this is happening and I am going to be poisoned." The fact that all of these wells have been drilled and are used for disposal and that there isn't a single known case of contamination of drinking water around them should tell everyone something about how this issue has been portrayed. The danger is being exaggerated and completely blown out of proportion. If clean water is the goal, there are at least ten human activities that are more dangerous to drinking water than shale gas development. These would include agriculture, livestock, human sewage, golf courses, detergent usage, coal mining, coal burning, etc.

Amy Mall's picture
Amy Mall on October 10, 2012

Dear Bobbi: Thanks for the note. This document explains NRDC's questions about propane fracking: http://docs.nrdc.org/energy/files/ene_12041201a.pdf

Amy Mall's picture
Amy Mall on October 10, 2012

Concerned Scientist: In many cases where groundwater may have been contaminated during hydraulic fracturing operations, the contamination has been attributed to other causes, such as faulty well structure or poor cementing, even if a well failed during the hydraulic fracturing process. In others, incidents of drinking water contamination where hydraulic fracturing is considered as a suspected cause have not been sufficiently investigated, either because scientists and regulators could not properly investigate (did not have the information or technology needed) or because they chose not to, even where signs point to hydraulic fracturing. However, in Pavillion, Wyoming, the EPA's draft report concluded it was likely that ground water contamination was contaminated by the hydraulic fracturing process itself. The ground water there has been contaminated by chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, and those chemicals most likely reached groundwater through subsurface pathways.

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