The Government Accountability Office says environmental regulators are failing to adequately enforce rules for wells used to dispose of toxic waste from drilling.
|A drilling site at the Haynesville Shale in north Louisiana|
Federal environment officials have failed to adequately oversee hundreds of thousands of wells used to inject toxic oil and gas drilling waste deep underground, according to a new congressional report.
The report, released Monday by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, is critical of the Environmental Protection Agency’s inconsistent handling of safety inspections, poor record keeping, and failure to adjust its guidelines to adapt to new risks brought by the recent boom in domestic drilling, including the understanding that injection wells are causing earthquakes.
The EPA generally agreed with the GAO’s findings and characterization of the challenges the agency is currently facing.
Concerns have mounted recently about potential water contamination from injections wells. California officials have ordered an emergency shut-down of 11 oil and gas waste injection sites and a review of more than 100 others, out of fears that fracking fluids and other toxic waste are reaching drinking water aquifers there. (See below this story for a map of U.S. aquifers and fracking sites.) Earthquakes from Ohio to Oklahoma to Texas have also been blamed on injection wells governed by the EPA’s program.
The GAO’s findings echo those in a 2012 ProPublica investigation which found that the nation’s injection wells were often poorly regulated and experienced high rates of failure, likely leading to pollution of underground water supplies. ProPublica’s investigation found that the EPA did not know exactly how many wells existed in the United States or what volume of waste was being injected into them, and that it did not possess complete records required to be collected under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
Oversight of injection wells is currently delegated by the EPA to a number of state agencies. Part of the problem, the GAO found, is that the EPA has not consistently inspected those state programs to ensure that state regulators comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act and EPA guidelines. The EPA also has failed to incorporate requirements it has placed on some of its state programs into federal regulations, making it difficult for the agency to take legal action against violators.
The EPA oversees more than 700,000 injection wells of various types in the United States, including about 172,000 that pump waste or other materials from the oil and gas industry underground. These wastes, often euphemistically referred to as “saltwater,” commonly contain a mixture of water, hazardous chemicals and radioactive minerals. This subset of wells, called Class 2 wells, were the focus of the GAO report.
When waste material is injected thousands of feet underground, rock formations are supposed to prevent it from migrating into nearby drinking water sources. But this is not an exact science and regulators have been finding that fracturing natural rock formations and injecting liquids into them at high pressures can have real and troubling consequences. ProPublica’s investigation found numerous instances in which waste had strayed from its target underground or spurted back to the surface, sometimes in residential areas.
Scientists interviewed by ProPublica said the wells were often located adjacent to fault lines which break the seal of rock layers, or old oil wells which also allow a pathway for contaminants to spread. The class 2 waste wells in question are not subject to the same rigorous geologic study, safety reviews, and regular monitoring that the EPA requires of other toxic waste injection wells from other industries, making it difficult for the EPA to enforce protections of underground drinking water supplies, ProPublica found.
According to the new GAO report, the EPA and state programs are also being hindered by budget constraints. Between 2003 and 2012, funding for state injection well programs stagnated at about $10 million a year, which — factoring in inflation — effectively meant resources had declined, the GAO concluded.
The report also blamed the EPA for not taking steps to collect complete, consistent and reliable data on injection wells to use for reporting at a national level, mirroring some of ProPublica’s key findings.
“Unless EPA takes these steps, it will be several years before EPA can provide updated information at a national level to Congress, the public, and others on the [injection well] program, preventing them from understanding the program and the protection being provided to underground sources of drinking water at an important juncture in the development of oil and gas in the country,” the GAO warned.
This story first appeared at ProPublica.
Senior reporter Abrahm Lustgarten contributed to this report.
Radisson dumps NFL sponsorship over abuse; troops sent to fight Ebola; bomber kills troops and more national and international news for Tuesday, September 16, 2014.
Tuesday's Blogs from the Bog!
That fact that New Orleans led both games in the final 10 seconds of regulation, and lost each by a field goal or less, is of little solace.
The superintendent will make another go at getting a budget passed for the already commenced fiscal year as the LPSB is slated to meet tonight on the eve of the state’s budget adoption deadline.
A person familiar with the situation says New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram has a broken hand.
It seeks an investigation into a $100,000 fund transfer from Vitter's federal campaign account to an independent PAC supporting Vitter's 2015 candidacy for governor.
Landrieu has acknowledged that she improperly billed her Senate office for nearly $43,000 in charter costs that should have been paid from her campaign account.
House District 45 Rep. Joel Robideaux is term-limited and running for city-parish president next year, leaving his seat up for grabs come 2015 and at least three likely contenders so far, including ...
When the Browns explained their plans to Brian Hoyer about bringing rookie Johnny Manziel into the game, Cleveland's starting quarterback bit his lip and devised one of his own.
National debate over solitary confinement puts spotlight on Angola inmate’s 35 years in ‘the hole’
If you didn’t know Alison, Sheriff Mike Neustrom’s 42-year-old daughter who died Wednesday after battling cancer for a year, you missed out on something really special.
Asserting that the LPSB's taxpayer-funded report on the results of the superintendent investigation is a public record, TDA's executive editor takes the gloves off.
Tyson Dupuis accumulated three OWI arrests in less than 10 years, with his most recent resulting in the death of an 18-year-old Crowley woman in 2011, yet his punishment would only amount to a year in prison.
Hugh Freeze has firsthand knowledge of the Sun Belt Conference, having coached at Arkansas State in 2011 before moving on to Mississippi.
A federal grand jury has charged a 56-year-old Lafayette man with income tax fraud for allegedly failing to report hundreds of thousands of dollars in income.
The LPSB voted 6-3 to accept charges against Superintendent Pat Cooper and pave the way for his upcoming termination hearing.
The timing of U.S. District Judge Richard Haik's semi-retirement paves the way for a Dem, and perhaps the first African American, to serve the Western District.
After months of clamoring for Superintendent Pat Cooper’s job, the LPSB will get its chance this afternoon to get the ball rolling with a special meeting at 2:30 p.m.
Voters trying to sift through the details of 14 constitutional amendments on the Nov. 4 ballot have a guide they can consult.
Delcambre now has a boat launch that can handle four boats at a time and a new pavilion for the seafood and farmer's market.
Drew Brees sees plenty to like about the way New Orleans' offense is shaping up, even if it's not yet reflected in the win column.
About a week after mistakenly using a Twitter hashtag for the Cincinnati Bengals to wish the New Orleans Saints good luck, the Cassidy camp refers to the EPA as the “Energy Protection Agency.”
Lawmakers launched their latest effort Wednesday to try to chip away at a $12 billion backlog of road and bridge repair and improvement work across Louisiana, seeking ideas to raise new transportation dollars in an anti-tax environment.
The congressman has rejected two other debates in which Landrieu had agreed to participate.
When we got the emergency-meeting agenda via email today we thought, “Hmmm ... cooler on the blink ... coroner ... corpses ... this could be bad.”