EPA Refuses to Update Safeguards to Protect Public from Oil and Gas Wastes

Agency Leaves in Place Decades-Old Generic Standards that Fail to Address Oil and Gas Wastes’ Risks and Harms

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In response to a lawsuit from environmental groups, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today released a decision saying that it will not update rules for the disposal and handling of dangerous oil and gas wastes, such as those that result from drilling and fracking.

EPA determined that revisions were “not necessary” and instead left oil and gas wastes subject only to generic and outdated standards that apply to all non-hazardous solid waste.

“Today’s decision not to act is the latest in a thirty-year history of EPA failing to address the environmental and health hazards of oil and gas wastes,” said Adam Kron, senior attorney at the Environmental Integrity Project.  “EPA has known since 1988 that its rules for oil and gas wastes aren’t up to par. Rather than acting in the best interest of the public, EPA has continually shirked its duties and left our communities’ health, drinking water, and environment at risk.”

The requirement for EPA to make a decision today came as a result of a December 2016 consent decree between the agency and a coalition of seven community and environmental organizations, including the Environmental Integrity Project, Natural Resources Defense Council and Earthworks.

The consent decree settled a May 2016 federal lawsuit by the organizations, in which they raised a number of different wastes and industry practices that the groups argued EPA should address with updated rules.

These disposal practices include the injection of fracking wastewater into underground wells that have been linked to numerous earthquakes across the county, the spreading of fracking wastewater onto roads or fields, and dumping into unlined and unstable pits and landfills that spill and leak into groundwater and streams.

Jared Knicley, staff attorney at Natural Resources Defense Council, said: “As more communities raise alarm about threats to their air and water from nearby dirty oil and gas operations, here is another disturbing example of the Trump Administration putting polluters first and the rest of us at risk. And during Earth Week? It just underscores how far out of touch Trump is, considering this will endanger clean air, clean water, and healthy communities.”

“In what we can only call magical thinking, EPA today decided safeguards for oil and gas industry waste disposal are ‘not necessary’ under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act,” said Aaron Mintzes, Senior Policy Counsel for Earthworks. “Unfortunately states follow EPA’s lead, to the detriment of communities around the country hosting oil and gas operations.  EPA’s decision means fracking companies can dump these hazardous ‘non-hazardous’ wastes in landfills not designed for them and spread them on roads.”

“The estimated water usage for fracked shale gas wells in my home state of Pennsylvania is over 95 billion gallons,” said Barbara Jarmoska, board member of the Responsible Drilling Alliance.  “Disposal of waste from oil and gas operations is one of the biggest challenges the industry faces. EPA’s mission is ‘to protect human health and the environment.’  Failure to update rules for the disposal and handling of dangerous oil and gas wastes is an egregious dereliction of duty and an intolerable threat to the health and safety of American citizens.”

For a copy of the EPA decision letter, visit: https://www.environmentalintegrity.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/EPA-Response-to-CD-ECF-No.33-4-23-19.pdf

For more EPA information on the subject, visit: https://www.epa.gov/hw/management-oil-and-gas-exploration-and-production-waste#2019Review

The organizations on the consent decree that required EPA to act today are 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.

Media Contacts:

Tom Pelton, Environmental Integrity Project, 202-888-2703 tpelton@environmentalintegrity.org

Kate Kiely, NRDC, 212-727-4592, kkiely@nrdc.org

Alan Septoff, Earthworks, 202-887-1872 x105, mailto:aseptoff@earthworksaction.org