EPA to Hold Public Meeting on its Study of Oil and Gas Extraction Wastewater Management
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been studying holistically the management of wastewater generated from onshore unconventional oil and gas extraction, also known as "fracking." This study is a result of the latest (2016) Effluent Guidelines Program Plan recently published in the Federal Register. Currently "produced water," defined under 40 C.F.R. § 435.33(a)(2)(v) as "the fluid brought up from hydrocarbon-bearing strata during the extraction of oil and gas, and includes, where present, formation water, injection water, and any chemicals added downhole or during the oil/water separation process," is subject to effluent limitations which prohibit discharge to publicly owned treatment works (POTWs). As a result, this wastewater is disposed of primarily by underground injection. These wastewater injections have raised concerns, including the potential to induce earthquakes.
As a result, according to EPA, some states and stakeholders are interested in pursuing an investigation of available approaches to managing this wastewater. For example, New Mexico recently entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to further explore the possibility of re-use, recycling and beneficial use of "produced water." The parties intend to produce a white paper related to "produced water" opportunities under state and federal law in New Mexico. In addition, EPA has announced it will hold a public hearing to report on what it has learned and to solicit additional public input on Oct. 9, 2018 at 10:30 a.m. at its headquarters in Washington, D.C.. (Room 1153). These developments bear watching by those interested in the oil and gas industry.