RCRA Legislation Aims To Eliminate Fracking
Loopholes for Waste Disposal
A recent article by US News & World Report expounded on the predicted increase of the use of “fracking” as a method for extracting oil and natural gas. The article reported, “In 2000, shale beds provided just 1 percent of America’s natural gas supply. Today, that figure stands at nearly 25 percent. Most of that production increase is due to the growing popularity of hydraulic fracturing—known colloquially as “fracking”—a process used to release oil or gas from underground formations that are otherwise too difficult to mine. Over the past few years, advances in fracking technology have made tremendous reserves of natural gas in the United States economically recoverable for the first time. According to the Energy Information Administration, shale gas plays, or fields, in the United States—most notably the Marcellus, in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and New York, and the Barnett, in Texas—are said to contain enough natural gas to power the country for 110 years”. It is estimated that 90% of domestic oil and gas wells today involve fracking.
The practice of fracking uses special processes to create fractures that extend from drilled wells into oil and gas formations by pumping highly-pressurized fluid composed of water, sand, ceramic beads, and a mixture of chemicals into the formations. “As this fluid holds the underground fissures open, oil and gas flow up the well to the surface, where they can be recovered.”
Fracking is very controversial and numerous citizen groups have formed demanding more regulation—mostly due to air, water and ground contamination associated with the fracking process. As US News reported, the highest percentage of fracking fluid is made up of water, but a congressional report released in April of this year has identified nearly 750 different chemicals that may have been used in the process—29 are either likely or known carcinogens. The process for treatment holds that fluid in open pits until it can be sent to a treatment plant, and depending upon the local geology, some or much of the fracking fluid can remain in the ground after a well has run dry. Fracking is also known to release other hazards—methane, benzene, and sulfur oxide—into the air.
Recently, there has been attention drawn to several regulations on the books that do not regulate or provide any protection against waste from the fracking process such as RCRA (the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act) which has no requirements for the safe disposal of waste from the fracking due to a 33 year old loophole that classifies such wastes as “not hazardous”.
The RCRA act was implemented in 1976 to require the safe disposal of all hazardous waste, but in 1980, waste from oil and gas processes was specifically excluded due to strong lobbying by that industry. Currently, oil and gas companies are not even required to test their waste to see if it is hazardous and remain exempt from RCRA hazardous waste disposal guidelines. Additionally, regulations by states are patchy at best. If a company operates in several states, there may be uneven or conflicting regulations.
On July 25, 2013, U.S. Rep. Matthew Cartwright (D-PA) introduced legislation aimed to close the loopholes that made it possible for fracking operations to be exempt from hazardous waste requirements of the RCRA. The proposed federal legislation would eliminate the inequities in the state laws and force all producers to follow the same guidelines. While companies may not welcome further regulation, one standard for all companies in the industry would be much easier to implement and level the playing field.
RCRA and local waste handling regulations can be difficult and change frequently. Emilcott can do a thorough analysis of your current disposal procedures, according to the current federal and state requirements of hazardous waste disposal, and help design compliance programs which will allow you to continue to be productive and efficient while meeting all standards. They also remain current on all pending legislation to help you be proactive instead of reactive to changing circumstances. Contact us to discuss your requirements and how we can help.