Recent Fracking Disposal Quakes Could End RCRA Exemption

Date: January 13, 2012

Source: News Room

Activists are seizing upon a series of earthquakes in Ohio believed to be caused by a disposal well used to store wastewater from hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in their efforts to urge EPA to reverse its long-standing exemption of oil and gas wastewater from hazardous waste regulation. The groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), say that if EPA ends the exemption, it will force the wastewater to be disposed of in more strictly regulated hazardous waste (Class I) disposal wells, rather than as Class II wells, whose rules do not currently require consideration of possible seismic effects.

Though wastewater disposal to wells regulated by EPA’s underground injection control (UIC) program is not used in all oil and gas producing states because of geological differences, it is generally regarded by the agency and industry as the preferred option for accommodating the massive volumes of waste produced by booming hydraulic fracturing, or fracking operations.

NRDC representatives are now pointing to the Ohio quakes to argue that wastewater disposal from fracking and other drilling operations needs to be more strictly regulated. To do this, they are urging EPA to act on their petition seeking to end its long-time RCRA exemption for certain wastes, including produced water, from oil and gas production. The agency’s exemption stems from its 1988 regulatory determination that the wastes should not be characterized as hazardous wastes under RCRA. Because of EPA’s determination, wastewater from drilling operations can be disposed in Class II wells, rather than the more strictly regulated Class I wells.

In September 2010, NRDC filed a petition calling on EPA to reverse its determination and end the RCRA exemption, though EPA has yet to respond. In the petition, NRDC argues that hazardous waste rules under RCRA subtitle C are “necessary to ensure safe management of these wastes throughout their life cycle from cradle to grave, including generation, transportation, treatment, storage and disposal.”

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