Drinking Water: Characterization of Injected Fluids Associated with Oil and Gas Production

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What GAO Found

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) oversees the Underground Injection Control (UIC) program, including oversight and regulation of injection wells associated with oil and gas production called class II wells. Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, these wells are subject to regulation to protect underground drinking water sources. EPA has approved 39 states to manage their own class II well programs and EPA regions are responsible for managing the programs in remaining states.

Information collected by EPA and select states on the characteristics of fluids injected into class II wells varies. Class II programs in seven of the eight states GAO reviewed require permit applicants to provide some information on the characteristics of fluids injected into class II wells prior to permitting, but the specificity and frequency of the information applicants are required to provide varies from state to state. Specifically, all of the states GAO selected except for Ohio require applicants to provide some information on the characteristics of fluids injected into class II wells, but the specific constituents to be reported differ by state. While Ohio’s regulations do not require operators to provide information on the characteristics of fluids injected, the regulations narrowly define what fluids can be injected into class II wells. According to state officials, Ohio also conducted research on the characteristics of produced water in the state’s oil and gas producing formations, and samples fluids injected into class II wells during well inspections. In addition, while all of the states GAO reviewed but Ohio require applicants to provide information on fluid characteristics when the well is permitted, five of the programs in eight states GAO reviewed require that well operators conduct additional analyses of fluids injected into class II wells after the well has been permitted.

According to EPA officials, fluid characterization requirements for class II wells are designed to ensure that no chemicals are injected that could potentially damage the wells. In addition, EPA officials told GAO that the agency does not prescribe a set list of constituents that state and EPA-managed class II programs should monitor. As a result, state programs and programs managed by EPA regions have discretion to monitor the injection fluid constituents that they deem critical to protect underground sources of drinking water in their respective states or regions.

Why GAO Did This Study

Every day in the United States, at least 2 billion gallons of fluids are injected into underground formations to enhance oil and gas production, or to dispose of fluids brought to the surface during the extraction of oil and gas resources. Water that is injected underground for disposal or to enhance recovery is regulated under EPA’s UIC program and approved state programs. EPA developed safeguards to prevent fluids that are injected into underground formations from endangering underground drinking water sources, including monitoring of the characteristics of fluids injected into class II wells. Domestic production of oil and gas has increased dramatically in the last several years, with corresponding increases in the wastewater resulting from production processes. Because a significant percentage of the population gets its drinking water from underground aquifers, these wells have raised concerns about the safety of the nation’s drinking water.

GAO was asked to describe the information that EPA and states require injection well operators to provide on the characteristics of fluids injected into class II wells. GAO reviewed and summarized state class II fluid characterization requirements from a nongeneralizable sample of eight states–California, Colorado, Kentucky, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Texas–selected on the basis of shale oil and gas regions and the highest number of class II wells. GAO also interviewed EPA and state officials.

EPA Is Cracking Down on Dentists

Read the full story in The National Journal.

Your dentist wants you to clean your teeth. The federal government wants your dentist to clean his office.

The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday released a proposal to cut down on the amount of mercury that winds up in the water supply as a result of a routine dental procedure.

Documents offer peek inside EPA’s climate rules sales pitch

Via the National Journal’s daily e-mail newsletter dated September 25.

The road to a final carbon-emissions regulation is paved with meetings and phone calls. Lots of meetings and phone calls.

A bunch of documents newly or recently posted in the online docket for EPA’s draft power-plant rule list meetings and calls that EPA officials held in the weeks after the early June release of the plan.

It’s a detailed tally of the state officials, environmentalists, corporations, and other “stakeholders” that EPA officials spoke with and fielded questions from on the regulation, which is aimed at cutting nationwide power-plant emissions by 30 percent by 2030 compared with 2005 levels.

The documents about discussions in June and July range from very general meeting listings to rather granular stuff. For instance, there’s a list of detailed questions to the head of EPA’s Clean Air Markets Division from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which is a coalition of northeast and mid-Atlantic states that has a cap-and-trade program for power-plant emissions.

Several documents describe the blitz of talks that came right after EPA released the plan on June 2 and was fielding questions about it. A sample: Joe Goffman, the senior EPA counsel for air quality, met June 5 with an Exelon exec to discuss nuclear power’s role and the same day with the nonprofit Clean Energy Group (those are just two of several Goffman meetings noted). Top air regulator Janet McCabe and Goffman met or had calls with officials from an array of states that week.

On July 14 McCabe and Goffman met with the Union of Concerned Scientists, while the next day Goffman took questions from “utility investors” on a call organized by Bernstein Research analyst Hugh Wynne, the documents show. Both Goffman and McCabe had multiple state meetings that week too.

And some of the listings are about EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy’s talks, such as a June 6 call with the head of the Edison Electric Institute, which represents for-profit utilities. It’s not all domestic either. There’s a July 7 meeting between EPA and the Danish ambassador to the U.S., and other July meetings with officials from Poland and New Zealand.

State to establish sea level rise database: Gov. Jerry Brown signs Assemblyman Rich Gordon’s legislation to coordinate planning

Read the full story in the Daily Journal.

In a statewide effort to encourage public agencies to address sea level rise, Gov. Jerry Brown approved the formation of an online database to assist in coordinated planning in adapting to climate change.

On Sunday, Brown signed Assemblyman Rich Gordon’s Assembly Bill 2516, which requires cities, counties, coastal and Bayside airports, ports, state environmental agencies and utilities to share their studies, plans and actions through the database.

US Settlement with Michigan Utility to Reduce Emissions at Its Coal-Fired Power Plants, Fund Projects to Benefit Environment and Communities

In a settlement with the United States, Consumers Energy, a subsidiary of CMS Energy Corporation, has agreed to install pollution control technology, continue operating existing pollution controls and comply with emission rates to reduce harmful air pollution from the company’s five coal-fired power plants located in West Olive, Essexville, Muskegon and Luna Pier, Michigan, the Department of Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced today. The settlement will resolve claims that the company violated the Clean Air Act by modifying their facilities in a way that caused the release of excess sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide.

EPA expects that the actions required by the settlement will reduce harmful emissions by over 46,500 tons per year, which includes approximately 38,400 tons per year of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and 8,100 tons per year of nitrogen oxide (NOx). The company estimates that it will spend over $1 billion to implement the required measures. The pollution reductions will be achieved through the installation, upgrade, and operation of state-of-the-art pollution control devices designed to reduce emissions and protect public health. Consumers Energy will also take several coal-fired units offline and may repower additional coal-fired units with natural gas.

The settlement requires the company to pay a civil penalty of $2.75 million to resolve Clean Air Act violations and spend at least $7.7 million on environmental projects to help mitigate the harmful effects of air pollution on the environment and benefit local communities.

“The required pollution controls and funding for mitigation projects will reduce harmful pollution in American communities,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “This case demonstrates that energy can be provided to local communities in a responsible way that significantly reduces sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide known to contribute to serious health concerns.”

“Today’s settlement will bring cleaner air to residents in Michigan by removing tens of thousands of tons of harmful air pollution from the atmosphere,” said Sam Hirsch, the Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “This agreement will render benefits to communities far into the future with pollution-reduction projects that will improve public health and help restore natural resources downwind of the plants.”

The settlement requires the company install to pollution control technology and implement other measures to reduce sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter emissions from its five coal-fired power plants, comprising 12 operating units. Among other requirements, the company must comply with declining system-wide limits for SO2 and NOx and meet emission rates. In addition, the company must retire or refuel two units to natural gas and retire an additional five units.

SO2 and NOx, two predominant pollutants emitted from power plants, have numerous adverse effects on human health and are significant contributors to acid rain, smog, and haze. These pollutants are converted in the air to particulate matter that can cause severe respiratory and cardiovascular impacts, and premature death.

The settlement also requires Consumers Energy to spend at least $7.7 million on projects that will benefit the environment and local communities, including paying $500,000 to the National Park Service for the restoration of land, watersheds, vegetation and forests or combating invasive species in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Park.

The remaining $7.2 million will be spent on a series of mitigation projects. Potential projects include efforts to reduce vehicle emissions, install renewable energy and energy efficiency projects, replace or retrofit wood burning appliances, and protect and restore ecologically significant lands in Michigan. Consumers Energy has five years to complete its selected projects.

This settlement is part of EPA’s national enforcement initiative to control harmful emissions from large sources of pollution, which includes coal-fired power plants, under the Clean Air Act’s Prevention of Significant Deterioration requirements. The total combined SO2 and NOx emission reductions secured from all these settlements will exceed 2 million tons each year once all the required pollution controls have been installed and implemented.

Consumers Energy is Michigan’s second-largest electric and natural gas utility, providing electric service to more than 6 million people in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan.

The settlement was lodged with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan and is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval.

EPA Adds Five, Proposes Three Hazardous Waste Sites to Superfund’s National Priorities List

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is adding five hazardous waste sites that pose risks to human health and the environment to the National Priorities List (NPL) of Superfund sites. In addition, the agency is proposing to add three additional sites to the list. The Superfund program, a federal program established by Congress in 1980, investigates and cleans up the most complex, uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste sites in the country and converts them into productive local resources by eliminating or reducing health risks and environmental contamination associated with hazardous waste sites.

“Cleaning up hazardous waste sites protects our country’s most vulnerable populations, prevents diseases, increases local property values and facilitates economic restoration of communities across America,” said Mathy Stanislaus, assistant administrator for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. “By listing a site on the Superfund National Priorities List, we’re taking an important action to protect human health and encourage economic restoration of communities.”

Recent academic research, from the study Superfund Cleanups and Infant Health, demonstrated that investment in Superfund cleanups reduces the incidence of congenital abnormalities for those living within 5,000 meters (or 5,468 yards) of a site. Another study conducted by researchers at Duke and Pittsburgh Universities, concluded that making a site final on the NPL may increase housing prices by signaling that a site has been placed on the path towards remediation. Furthermore, the study found that once a site has all cleanup remedies in place, nearby properties have a significant increase in property values as compared to pre-NPL proposal values.

The following five sites have been added to the NPL:

  • Indiana – North Shore Drive (ground water plume) in Elkhart, Ind.;
  • Louisiana – Delta Shipyard (former boat cleaning and repair) in Houma, La.;
  • New Jersey – Pierson’s Creek (chemical manufacturer) in Newark, N.J.;
  • Pennsylvania – Baghurst Drive (ground water plume) in Harleysville, Pa.; and
  • Vermont – Jard Company, Inc. (former capacitor manufacturer) in Bennington, Vt.

The following three sites have been proposed for addition to the NPL:

  • Alabama – 35th Avenue (residential soil contamination) in Birmingham, Ala.;
  • Indiana – Kokomo Contaminated Ground Water Plume (ground water plume) in Kokomo, Ind.; and
  • Michigan – DSC McLouth Steel Gibraltar Plant (steel finishing operation) in Gibraltar, Mich.

The sites announced today have characteristics and conditions that vary in terms of size, complexity and when the contamination occurred, with some sites involving recent contamination, among other factors. But as with all NPL sites, EPA first works to identify companies or people responsible for the contamination at a site, and requires them to conduct or pay for the cleanup. For the newly listed sites without viable potentially responsible parties, EPA will investigate the full extent of the contamination before starting substantial cleanup at the site.

Past and current site uses include lead smelting, solvent handling, small capacitor and motor manufacturing, and maritime-related activities. Site contaminants are numerous with lead, arsenic and other metals; polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs); and volatile organic compounds such as trichloroethylene (TCE), as well as others. Contamination affects residential yards, wetlands, surface water and groundwater, and soil.

For example, EPA added the Jard Company Inc. to the NPL. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), used in the manufacturing process, were released into the former building structure and soils on the property which contaminated area groundwater. At the Delta Shipyard site, heavy metals and other hazardous wastes were released from disposal ponds which contaminated area soils, groundwater and surface waters. Without NPL site listing and cleanup, contamination would continue to pose a risk to human health and the environment.

The Superfund program uses remedy effectiveness information to actively manage site operations and refine remedial strategies in order to efficiently move sites to completion. Today, more than 800 Superfund sites across the nation support some type of continued use, active reuse or planned reuse activities.

The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), the law establishing the Superfund program, gives EPA the authority to clean up releases of hazardous substances and directs EPA to update the NPL at least annually to protect human health and the environment with the goal of returning these sites to communities for productive use. The NPL contains the nation’s most serious uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste sites. The list serves as the basis for prioritizing both enforcement actions and long-term EPA Superfund cleanup funding; only sites on the NPL are eligible for such funding.