News Feature | October 31, 2018

Trump May Relax Clean Water Rules

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,
@sarmje

Trump May Relax Clean Water Rules

The Trump administration may relax the rules preventing the oil and gas industry from discharging wastewater into rivers and streams.

“For almost as long as there have been oil wells in Texas, drillers have pumped the vast quantities of brackish wastewater that surfaces with the oil into underground wells thousands of feet beneath the earth’s surface,” The Houston Chronicle reported.

“But with concern growing that the underlying geology in the Permian Basin and other shale plays are reaching capacity for disposal wells, the Trump administration is examining whether to adjust decades-old federal clean water regulations to allow drillers to discharge wastewater directly into rivers and streams from which communities draw their water supplies,” it continued.

Experts say that drillers can already do this under federal law in limited ways, but it rarely occurs because it is hardly ever cost-effective to process this kind of wastewater to meet federal standards.

The U.S. EPA is considering the question of whether water standards can be altered so that oil and gas companies can pump treated wastewater into the water supply.

The agency is still considering how it might act, holding public meetings, and consulting with experts, according to Lee Forsgren of the EPA’s Office of Water.

“We’re very much in a listening mode now,” he said, per the report.

The agency plans to produce a white paper in early 2019 to help it decide how regulations should look in this space, according to Oil & Gas Journal.

“EPA undertook the study because new wastewater management approaches are emerging, and possible uses for treated production waste are emerging, suggesting they could be used in parts of the US where fresh surface water is scarce, according to Jesse Pritts, an engineer in EPA’s water office and the study’s leader. One goal is to understand if broad support exists for potentially allowing broader wastewater discharges,” the report said, citing Pritts.

The Environmental Defense Fund published a blog post on the EPA’s undertaking, arguing that until science improves, wastewater discharge should be limited.

“Unfortunately, the limits of what we currently do and don’t know about the chemicals and toxicity of produced water are significant. Uncertainties and limitations in our ability to identify the constituents of concern in produced water and understand health and other toxicological risks from their release at varying levels make it difficult to establish appropriate goals for treatment systems and define protective limits and that will guide permit writing,” the post stated.

Image credit: "Oil In The Hills," aepg © 2012, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/