The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continues to assert itself into states’ business by claiming authority of the federal Safe Water Drinking Act. The latest example was yesterday. The EPA requested (ie demanded) details from six drillers who operate in Pennsylvania on where they will dispose of fracking fluid wastewater now that the PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has told drillers that certain municipal sewage treatment plants not specially equipped will no longer be able to accept fracking wastewater. The EPA wants to know where that wastewater will now go.
But the PA DEP itself has not escaped the heavy hand of the federal EPA either. The EPA has “requested” (ie demanded) PA DEP provide a list of facilities that accept fracking wastewater. And the EPA has other “requests” for the DEP on how to do things better (see the EPA press release below).
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today directed six natural gas drillers to disclose how and where the companies dispose of or recycle drilling process water in the region. EPA continues to work with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) to ensure that natural gas production takes place safely and responsibly. These actions are among the ongoing steps EPA is taking to ensure drilling operations are protective of public health and the environment. Natural gas is a key part of our nation’s energy future and EPA will continue to work with federal, state and local partners to ensure that public health and the environment are protected.
“We want to make sure that the drillers are handling their wastewater in an environmentally responsible manner,” said EPA mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin. “EPA is continuing to work with PADEP officials who are on the frontlines of permitting and regulating natural gas drilling activities in Pennsylvania.”
EPA’s action follows a request by PADEP asking drillers to voluntarily stop taking wastewater to Pennsylvania wastewater treatment plants by May 19. EPA wants to know where drillers are now going to dispose of their wastewater and will work with PADEP to ensure EPA has access to this information. The companies must report back to EPA by May 25 with information on the disposal or recycling of their drilling process water.
The companies receiving the information requests are: Atlas Resources L.L.C; Talisman Energy USA; Range Resources – Appalachia, L.L.C.; Cabot Gas and Oil Corporation; SWEPI, LP; and, Chesapeake Energy Corporation. These six companies account for more than 50 percent of the natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania.
EPA has also requested that PADEP:
- Notify EPA when facilities are accepting hydraulic fracturing wastewater so EPA can assess if a pretreatment program or additional permit limits are needed;
- Apply water quality standards for the protection of drinking water at the point of wastewater discharge, rather than at the point of first downstream drinking water intake;
- Consider more “representative” sampling where drinking water facilities are downstream of treatment plants accepting Marcellus Shale gas wastewater; and
- Be aware that EPA has sent a letter to PADEP’s southwest regional office clarifying that Federal Underground Injection Control permits are required for any placement of hydraulic fracturing wastes in injection wells or bore holes.
EPA requested these actions in a letter to PADEP Secretary Michael Krancer dated May 11. The letter also asked the state agency take action to ensure that any new practices for disposing of drilling wastewater are legally enforceable.
*U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Press Release (May 12, 2011) – EPA Seeks More Information from Natural Gas Drilling Operations to Ensure Safety of Wastewater Disposal