News Feature | September 13, 2014

Federal Report: EPA Fracking Oversight Not Enough

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

The federal Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently called out the EPA for not doing enough to protect drinking water from risks posed by oil and gas companies.

"Congress’ watchdog agency faulted the [EPA] for its oversight of hydraulic fracturing wastewater injected into the ground, saying the agency doesn’t adequately work to mitigate emerging risks to drinking water," The Hill reported.

The agency's proper role in fracking oversight has been hotly debated as the shale gas industry grows and various states attempt to regulate it on their own. In fact, "the EPA cannot regulate the fracking process, because a 2005 law exempted from federal oversight the practice of injecting fluids into wells at a high pressure to break shale and retrieve oil and gas," The Hill reported.

However, the GAO said the EPA has a role in fracking oversight that it is neglecting.

The GAO report said: "EPA is not consistently conducting [key] oversight and enforcement activities...First, EPA does not consistently conduct annual on-site state program evaluations as directed in guidance because, according to some EPA officials, the agency does not have the resources to do so. The agency has not, however, evaluated its guidance, which dates from the 1980s, to determine which activities are essential for effective oversight. Without such an evaluation, EPA does not know what oversight activities are most effective or necessary." 

"The GAO also faulted the EPA for poor data collection," according to NPR, and "recommended the EPA review the risks associated with underground injections." 

The EPA emphasized pragmatism in its response to the report. 

“Conducting a single rulemaking of this scale to incorporate all outstanding state program changes would be impractical,” said Nancy Stoner, a top EPA water official, per The Hill. 

In the report, the GAO also highlighted what it framed as new risks associated with injection wells: "earthquakes, high pressure in formations that may have reached their disposal limit, and fracking with diesel," the NPR report said.

For more oil and gas news, check out Water Online's Produced Water Solution Center

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