One of the most intractable problems related to fracking is that each well drilled creates millions of gallons of radioactive and toxic wastewater.
For the past several years, the Environmental Protection Agency has faced enormous public pressure to ensure this dangerous waste stops ending up dumped in rivers or causing contamination in other ways.
But the drilling boom has proceeded at such an accelerated pace in the United States that regulators have struggled to keep up, to control or even track where the oil and gas industry is disposing of this radioactive waste. As a consequence, hundreds of millions of gallons of partially treated waste have ended up in the rivers from which millions of Americans get their drinking water.
An internal draft EPA document leaked to DeSmog gives a small window into how, after a full decade since the start of the drilling boom, the agency is responding.
The document, dated March 7, 2014, is titled “National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permitting and Pretreatment for Shale Gas Extraction Wastewaters: Frequently Asked Questions.”
It's revealing for what it shows about how EPA staff are taking the hazards of fracking wastewater more seriously — and also how little things have changed.
“In general, the EPA memo does a good job of making clear that fracking wastewater discharges are covered under the Clean Water Act, and that proper discharge permitting is required, including setting limits to protect water quality standards and to comply with technology based standards in the Clean Water Act,” explained Clean Water Action attorney Myron Arnowitt, who was asked by DeSmog to review the document. “It is mostly an increased level of detail for regional EPA staff regarding permitting issues under the Clean Water Act, compared to the pervious memo in 2011.”
The document, intended as a guide for local regulators on how the Clean Water Act should be interpreted and applied, is impressive in many ways.