Groups Sue EPA Over Dangerous Drilling and Fracking Waste Call for Rules for Handling and Disposal of Oil and Gas Waste to Prevent Earthquakes, Drinking Water Contamination
Wednesday, May 4, 2016
WASHINGTON, D.C. – A coalition of community and environmental organizations filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today calling for regulations to stop oil and gas companies from disposing and handling drilling and fracking wastes in ways that threaten public health and the environment.
The organizations are pushing EPA to issue rules that address problems including the disposal of fracking wastewater in underground injection wells, which accept hundreds of millions of gallons of oil and gas wastewater and have been linked to numerous earthquakes in Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Texas.
“Updated rules for oil and gas wastes are almost 30 years overdue, and we need them now more than ever,” said Adam Kron, senior attorney at the Environmental Integrity Project. “Each well now generates millions of gallons of wastewater and hundreds of tons of solid wastes, and yet EPA’s inaction has kept the most basic, inadequate rules in place. The public deserves better than this.”
The groups filing today’s suit include 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.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, calls on the court to set strict deadlines for EPA to comply with its long-overdue obligations to update waste disposal rules that should have been revised more than a quarter century ago.
Amy Mall, senior policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said: “Waste from the oil and gas industry is very often toxic and should be treated that way. Right now, companies can get rid of their toxic mess in any number of dangerous ways—from spraying it on icy roads, to sending it to landfills with our everyday household trash, to injecting it underground where it can endanger drinking water and trigger earthquakes. EPA must step in and protect our communities and drinking water from the carcinogens, radioactive material and other dangerous substances that go hand-in-hand with oil and gas waste.”
The organizations are urging EPA to ban the practice of spreading fracking wastewater onto roads or fields, which allows toxic pollutants to run off and contaminate streams. And EPA should require landfills and ponds that receive drilling and fracking waste to be built with adequate liners and structural integrity to prevent spills and leaks into groundwater and streams.
The groups filed a notice of their intent to sue EPA last August, warning the agency a lawsuit would follow unless it complied with its duty under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) to review and revise the federal regulations and guidelines governing how oil and gas waste must be handled and disposed. RCRA requires that EPA review the regulations and state plan guidelines at least every three years and, if necessary, revise them. The agency determined in 1988 that such revisions of the regulations were necessary to address specific concerns with oil and gas wastes, yet has failed to meet its legal responsibility to act for nearly three decades.
Over the last decade, the oil and gas industry’s fracking-based boom has produced a vast amount of solid and liquid waste. Each well produces millions of gallons of wastewater and hundreds of tons of drill cuttings, which contain contaminants that pose serious risks to human health. These include known carcinogens such as benzene, toxic metals such as mercury, and radioactive materials. However, the current RCRA rules that govern oil and gas wastes are too weak because they are the same rules that apply to all “non-hazardous” wastes, including household trash.
As a result, oil and gas companies are disposing, storing, transporting, and handling these wastes in a number of troublesome ways. These include: spraying fracking waste fluids onto roads and land near where people live and work; disposing of billions of gallons of oil and gas wastewater in underground injection wells; sending the drill cuttings and fracking sands to landfills not designed to handle toxic or radioactive materials; and storing and disposing of wastewater in pits and ponds, which often leak. Across the U.S., there are numerous instances of wastes leaking out of ponds and pits into nearby streams and the groundwater beneath, and operators often “close” the pits by simply burying the wastes on site.
Aaron Mintzes, Policy Advocate for Earthworks, said: “In 1988, EPA promised to require oil and gas companies to handle this waste more carefully. Yet neither EPA nor the states have acted. Today's suit just says 28 years is too long for communities to wait for protections from this industry's hazardous waste.”
The following are some examples of problems caused by the improper disposal and handling of fracking and drilling waste:
Ohio: Underground injection wells in Ohio accepted 1.2 billion gallons of oil and gas wastewater for disposal in 2015, more than double the amount in 2011. Half this wastewater came from out of state. This has resulted in scores of earthquakes in the well-dense Youngstown area, with one well alone linked to 77 earthquakes. The Ohio Oil and Gas Commission has stated that regulations “have not kept pace” with the problem and that (to an extent) both the state and industry are “working with their eyes closed.” Other states that have experienced increased seismic events in the proximity of injection wells include Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas.
Pennsylvania: In May 2012, a six-million-gallon industrial pond holding fracking wastewater in Tioga County leaked pollutants, including arsenic and strontium, through holes in its liner into groundwater and a nearby trout stream.
West Virginia: Oil and gas wastewater dumped or spilled in rivers in West Virginia and Pennsylvania contains high levels of potentially hazardous ammonium and iodide, according to a study by Duke University scientists.
North Dakota: In January 2015, three million gallons of drilling wastewater spilled from a leaky pipe outside Williston, polluting a tributary of the Missouri River. In July 2011, a pipeline serving a well in Bottineau County leaked over two million gallons of fracking wastewater, damaging 24 acres of private land.
Colorado: A contractor for a pipeline services firm gave a detailed account of sand-blasting pulverized waste buildup (called “scale”) from pipeline seals directly into the air outdoors without a filter, even though such dust can be radioactive and cause damage to lungs.
Across the Marcellus region: Over the past several years, landfills in states around the Marcellus shale formation—even in New York, where fracking is prohibited—have experienced increasing shipments of drill cuttings that contain high levels of radiation. Many of the landfills do not test for radiation and do not have adequate controls to prevent the often toxic and radioactive “leachate” from seeping into groundwater.
Julie Archer, project manager at the West Virginia Surface Owners’ Rights Organization, said: “Although West Virginia has taken some steps to improve regulation, the state's approach has been to permit horizontal drilling without carefully considering whether current methods of waste disposal are appropriate or adequate. It’s past time for the EPA to provide clear guidance on how these wastes should be handled to protect our communities.”
Teresa Mills, director of the Ohio field office for the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, said: “A major reason for the industry’s use of injection wells to dispose of toxic fracking waste is the low disposal cost. We reject this reasoning because the public’s health and safety must come first.”
EPA’s current regulations do not take into account the dangerous contents of oil and gas wastes or their unique handling and disposal practices. Since 1988, the agency has acknowledged the shortcoming of its basic rules for solid waste management and has indicated that it needs to create enhanced rules tailored to the oil and gas industry. However, the agency has yet to take any action to develop these updated regulations.
Dan Olson, Executive Director of the Colorado-based San Juan Citizens Alliance, said: “As an organization representing hundreds of families living in close proximity to oil and gas operations, we see not only the physical pollution, but also the psychological toll that oil and gas waste exacts on communities. That the EPA is 30 years overdue in creating common sense rules for managing toxic waste from oil and gas operations is a cause of great concern for everyone living near these sources of improperly regulated industrial pollution.”
Don't spOIL the Wayne Action Alert
On Sunday, November 1, 2015, the U.S. Forest Service (FS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced plans to consider leasing over 31,000 acres of public mineral rights underneath Ohio's Wayne National Forest to private oil & gas companies.
In their Public Notice riddled with errors (including wrong day, bad webpage link, and inconsistent acreage numbers), the FS/BLM announced that they would hold "Scoping Meetings" to provide information on the Proposal and solicit "feedback" from interested parties. However, no project details were provided in the Notice or otherwise made available.
In addition, the Notice also states that the FS/BLM has already pre- decided to conduct piece-meal Environmental Assessments by district before receiving public "feedback" and despite the enormous footprint and potential impacts of this forest-wide proposal.
The FS/BLM are clearly indicating that they have already made the determination to categorically exclude the Proposal from full National Environmental Policy Act scrutiny in an effort to fast-tract the handover of public rights for private exploitation at the expense of forest ecosystems.
As has become their tactic, the Proposal is being lobbed at the beginning of the family holiday season and provides barely two-weeks notice prior to the first meeting. The dates and locations of the known meetings are as follows:
Tuesday, November 17: Marietta,
Ohio. Marietta College, Andrews Hall Great Room 203, 215 Fifth Street: 6:30-8:30 PM.
Wednesday, November 18: Athens, Ohio. Athens Community Center Multipurpose Room A, 701 East State Street: 6:30-8:30 PM.
Thursday, November 19: Ironton, Ohio. Ohio University Southern Campus, Collins Center, Bowman Auditorium, 1804 Liberty Avenue: 6:30-8:30 PM.
We are asking people to attend the scheduled meetings, if possible. BFC members will be at each meeting. There is strength and synergy in numbers.
If you can't attend, please submit written comments critical of this contrived NEPA process, limited and incorrect notice, poor timing, and piece-meal Environmental Assessment approach. Demand that the FS/BLM:
1. restart the process with proper Federal Register notice;
2. provide additional and meaningful opportunities for public input after the first of the year;
3. revise the outdated Wayne National Forest Plan to include consideration of the impacts of new oil & gas extraction technologies prior to leasing federal mineral rights;
4. prepare a full & comprehensive EIS to address the site-specific AND cumulative impacts of this forest-wide proposal.
5. not subsidize the oil & gas industry by handing over public rights at the bottom of a local & worldwide energy market; and
6. prevent further contribution to climate change by keeping these public fossil fuels in the ground undisturbed.
For background information on previous attempts to lease mineral rights under the Wayne, please see:
Frackfree America National Coalition, Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ),FaCT – Faith Communities Together for a Sustainable Future,NEOGAP (Network for Oil & Gas Accountability & Protection), Buckeye Forest Council
Freedom From Toxic Fracking Waste and Earthquakes: Concerned Citizens Announce a National Day of Action for November 17, 2015
Five organizations are coordinating a National Day of Action to take place on November 17, 2015 to raise public awareness of the serious threats to public health and safety from toxic and radioactive waste from hydraulic fracturing operations in the United States. This will be a timely event especially in light of increasing numbers of incidents associated with hydraulic fracturing (frack) waste.
The title of the November 17th nationwide event is: “Freedom from Toxic Fracking Waste and Earthquakes: A National Day of Action.” On that day, a national coalition of local coordinators and groups in communities across America will hold various events and actions throughout the day to shine light on the numerous problems associated with toxic fracking waste and its disposal, including its links to earthquakes, spills, and leaks.
Toxic and/or radioactive waste injected into disposal wells has been linked by scientists as causing earthquakes in Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas and other states, including in a number of areas which were previously seismically inactive. Waste transported and injected into wells also has been associated with contamination of water.
Since the federal classification of the waste from the oil/gas industry is listed as a “solid waste,” many states allow this waste to be dumped into our landfills. This practice threatens our drinking water. Some states allow the waste to be used as daily cover on landfills, causing further concerns for air emissions. In addition, some states allow desiccated oil and gas waste “brine” (dried saline toxic and radioactive waste) to be spread on roadways to melt ice and snow. Much of this material eventually is picked up by wind and spread into the air, threatening the health of those who might inhale it. This practice also threatens both surface and ground water.
According to the coalition, permitted shale development wells will result in tons of radioactive drill cuttings and millions of gallons of toxic fracking wastewater being created, transported, and disposed of somewhere. Although the liquid fracking waste is frequently referred to by the industry or others as “brine,” “saltwater,” or “produced water,” the groups say that these euphemistic terms are highly misleading and give the public a false sense of reassurance about the alleged safety of the fracking waste.
Ron Prosek of FaCT – Faith Communities Together for a Sustainable Future said, “Fracking waste is the kind of thing Pope Francis was referring to when he said that we humans are turning our beautiful Creation into ‘filth.’ And this filth is more than just a defacing. It is a killing poison. As people of faith, we appeal to the consciences of all persons of goodwill and ask them to participate in a local action on November 17 to call attention to this moral outrage and to demand that fracking waste be banned.”
The groups cite a recent incident in Vienna, Ohio that demonstrates dangers associated with injection wells (WKBN-TV, April 5, 2015). In Vienna, a release of fluid near an injection well operation destroyed two wetlands and killed fish, turtles, and small mammals. As reported in the WKBN news story, one Vienna resident said regarding her water source: “It is my only source of water, drinking water, food source, bathing water. And if that is contaminated, I don’t know what we are going to do… .”
[ Please see the following news video and article titled, “Hundreds attend public meeting on Vienna oil spill,” by Derrick Lewis, 4/5/15, WKBN TV 27: ]
For media inquiries or for more information on fracking and related processes, injection or disposal wells, toxic and radioactive fracking waste, or how to coordinate or participate in a local rally, please sign up for free e-mail updates on the Frackfree America National Coalition website and/ or contact us by phone, website, Facebook, twitter, or e-mail:
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Morgan County well blow out
Photo by USEPA
On Sunday May 4, 2014
The oil production well pad is situated on a man-made earthen platform, with steep embankments to the north, east, and south. As a result of the well head failure, drilling fluid discharged out of the well boring and onto the surface of the drilling pad and down gradient into storm-water control and naturally occurring drainage features adjacent to the north, east, & south perimeters of the well pad and to an unnamed creek downstream of the ditches. The unnamed creek flows for ¾ mile before leading to Cow Run Creek, and Cow Run Creek flows for a mile before leading to Olive Creek. Olive Creek then flows for a mile before meeting with the Muskingum River a tributary of the Ohio River.
In addition to the drilling mud and wet gas, natural gas was released causing an explosive atmosphere leading to dangerous working conditions and the evacuation of 7 residents from 3 homes adjacent to the site.
ATHENS, Ohio — State officials escorted about 100 people out of an information session on a proposed “fracking” waste well last night after the crowd tried to take over the Ohio Department of Natural Resources open house and turn it into a public hearing.
The group was ordered to leave the department’s Division of Wildlife regional headquarters in Athens after former Athens County Commissioner Roxanne Groff announced that she would be moderating a hearing on the well and taking public statements. At that point, an ODNR official informed Groff, who is a member of an anti-fracking group, that the event was not a public hearing but an open house, in which the public could ask questions of individual experts on hand, but not make public statements.
The crowd burst into applause when Groff asked, “Would the public in attendance like me to go on?” but ODNR officials ordered the protesters to leave. As they did, they chanted, “You have trampled on our rights! You have denied us due process.”
Re: Follow Up To Today’s Occupation of Ginsburg Injection Well
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, November 19, 2012
Today, a group of Athens County residents wearing hazmat style suits and respirators, and carrying large placards emblazoned with skulls, blockaded the front gate of the Class II injection well on Ladd Ridge Road in Athens County, Ohio. Protesters blocked the entrance to the well’s delivery pad. No trucks arrived to dump frack-waste while the protesters made their stand, successfully interrupting the day’s business. When the police arrived and asked protesters to disperse, they did so. There were no arrests.
Protesters demanded that the Ginsburg Well be shut down, citing numerous violations and shut down orders that the ODNR has issued and then refused to enforce. The injection well is known to accept millions of gallons of radioactive fracking waste from out of state. The protesters noted that this week, the ODNR has issued 4 new well permits, 3 of them in SE Ohio, despite the fact that they are not regulating the wells currently in operation.
“Frack-ers stay out of town, Cincy ain’t your dumping ground,” was one of the chants to the crowd of some 15,000 Cincinnatians led by Danny Berchenko of 350.org. We had consistent applause throughout the parade route and a few people even got out of their chairs to march with us. It was abundantly clear to everyone that Cincinnati doesn’t want this industry in our city.
MWCD Suspends water sales pending further research!
Keep sending those letters we are making a difference
The Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District, MWCD, is a state agency that has control over this watershed, which covers 20% of Ohio and 18 counties. They have authorized the sale of about 11 million gallon of water to Gulfport Energy to finish a horizontal well a few weeks ago. They plan on selling many millions of gallons in the near future.
It is crucial that we write letters to the 18 Conservancy Court Judges asking them to stop this sale of water. You can write your own letter or just print this letter out, sign and send to all 18 judges - it will only take 5 minutes. Find out how here.