The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is embarking on a new study that will take a holistic look at how the EPA, states, and stakeholders regulate and manage waste water from the oil and gas industry.
“I am pleased that this study will take into consideration the expertise of states and stakeholders in developing effective options and alternatives to better manage waste water from the oil and gas sector,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. “It’s important the agency works cooperatively with local officials and energy providers to protect the environment and provide affordable, reliable energy to the American people.”
Large volumes of waste water are generated in the oil and gas industry, and projections show that these volumes will only increase. Currently, the majority of this waste water is managed by disposal using a practice known as underground injection, where that water can no longer be accessed or used. Some states and stakeholders are asking whether it makes sense to continue to waste this water, particularly in water-scarce areas of the country, and what steps would be necessary to treat and renew it for other purposes.
”In New Mexico’s arid environment, conserving our resources by recycling produced water for more beneficial uses presents a significant economic development and water supply opportunity,” said New Mexico Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department Cabinet Secretary Ken McQueen. “For years, New Mexico has advocated recycling of produced water in oil and gas completion activities. Continued collaboration with EPA on this issue will no doubt encourage even greater recycling and additional reuse opportunities.”
The focus of the agency’s study will be to engage with stakeholders to consider available approaches to manage waste water from both conventional and unconventional oil and gas extraction at onshore facilities. The EPA’s study will address questions such as how existing federal approaches to produced-water management under the Clean Water Act can interact more effectively with state regulations, requirements, or policy needs and whether any potential federal regulations that may allow for broader discharge of treated produced water to surface waters are supported.
The EPA is particularly interested in working with its regulatory partners at the state level, who are at the forefront of the changing industry and often manage complex water-allocation programs under state law.
The EPA is just starting the process to gather information for this study. In the coming months, the EPA plans to reach out to stakeholders—including states, industry, and nongovernmental organizations—to facilitate conversations. Following this study, the EPA will determine if future agency actions are appropriate to further address oil and gas extraction waste water.
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