The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is seeking public input on a draft study that takes a holistic look at how the agency, states, tribes and others view the current state of regulation and management of wastewater from the oil and gas industry and provides insight into how this wastewater might be returned to beneficial use in the water cycle.
“EPA’s draft study leverages the expertise of states, industry, and others in determining the opportunities and challenges surrounding the beneficial reuse of wastewater from the oil and gas sector,” said EPA Office of Water Assistant Administrator David Ross. “EPA looks forward to continued public engagement regarding practical, environmentally-sound approaches to encouraging greater reuse and more holistic management of this water.”
“In an arid state like Utah, no potential source of water can be ignored,” said Utah Department of Environmental Quality Executive Director Alan Matheson. “We appreciate the valuable information EPA has compiled in this study and commit to work with EPA, states, and stakeholders to address the water quantity and quality challenges associated with produced water.”
“Wyoming has long recognized the importance of beneficial reuse of produced water from the oil and gas sector through implementation of sound practices that are protective of water quality standards,” said Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (WY DEQ) Director Todd Parfitt. “In particular, beneficial reuse of produced water provides significant benefit to wildlife, agriculture, and riparian habitat. WY DEQ looks forward to working with EPA and states in assessing and evaluating options for all produced water management opportunities.”
In May 2018, EPA announced the initiation of a Study of Oil and Gas Extraction Wastewater Management. The agency conducted a robust outreach effort to gather input from state, tribal, industrial, academic, environmental, public health and other entities for the study. This included meeting with individual entities, accepting written input through a public docket on regulations.gov, and hosting a national public meeting in October 2018 to report on what EPA had learned to date and to provide stakeholders an additional opportunity to provide input.
The draft Study of Oil and Gas Extraction Wastewater Management was developed using the feedback the agency received from these engagements and comments submitted to the public docket.
Many entities expressed support for increasing opportunities for discharge of oil and gas extraction wastewater to surface waters—especially where these wastewaters could address critical water resource needs. Some entities expressed concern that discharges to surface waters may, at least at this time, potentially impact the environment.
EPA will accept input on the draft study until July 1, 2019. Interested parties may email their input to email@example.com. After consideration of the feedback received, the agency will finalize the study in summer 2019. EPA will determine at that time what, if any, future agency actions are appropriate to encourage the beneficial reuse of oil and gas extraction wastewater under the Clean Water Act; this could include regulatory and/or non-regulatory approaches.
Large volumes of wastewater are generated from both conventional and unconventional oil and gas extraction at onshore facilities and projections show that these volumes will likely increase significantly with expanded production activity and enhanced drilling and hydraulic fracturing techniques. Currently, most of this wastewater is managed by disposing of it using a practice known as deep underground injection, where that water can no longer be accessed or used. The limits of injection are evident in some areas and new approaches are becoming necessary. Some states and stakeholders have questioned 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.