Saturday, 4 March 2017

EPA Plans To Allow Unlimited Dumping Of Fracking Wastewater In The Gulf Of Mexico


The EPA is seriously crossing the line with the dumping of fracking into our world's oceans.

Environmentalists are warning the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that its draft plan to ensure oil and gas companies can be authorized to dump off unlimited amounts of fracking wastewater and chemicals right into the Gulf of Mexico is a violation of federal law. 

In a letter sent to EPA officials last week, attorneys for the Center for Biological Diversity warned that the agency’s draft permit for water pollution discharges in the Gulf fails to properly consider how dumping wastewater containing chemicals from fracking and acidizing operations would impact water quality and marine wildlife.

The attorneys claim regulators aren’t educated enough about how the chemicals used in offshore fracking and other well treatments – some of which are toxic and dangerous to human and marine life – can highly impact marine environments, and crucial parts of the draft permit are based on very outdated data. Finalizing the draft permit as it stands would be a violation of the Clean Water Act, they argue.

“The EPA is endangering an entire ecosystem by allowing the oil industry to dump unlimited amounts of fracking chemicals and drilling waste fluid into the Gulf of Mexico,” said Center attorney Kristen Monsell.

“This appalling plan from the agency that’s supposed to protect our water violates federal law, and shows a disturbing disregard for offshore fracking’s toxic threats to sea turtles and other Gulf wildlife.”

The Center has a history of utilizing legal means to prevent polluters and challenge the government to enforce environmental regulations, so the letter could be viewed as a warning shot by the EPA. Earlier this year, lawsuits had been filed by the Center and a group won a temporary moratorium on offshore fracking in the Pacific.

These groups are preparing to challenge fracking in the Santa Barbara Channel under the Endangered Species Act. Offshore fracking involves pumping chemicals, sand and water at a high pressure into undersea wells to break up sand and rock formations and clear pathways for gas and crude oil. Offshore drillers treat wells with hydrochloric acid, a corrosive chemical, in a process known as “acidizing.”

The technologies were utilized hundreds of times to further enhance gas and oil production at hundreds of Gulf Coast wells in the recent years, and environmentalists say that the utilization of this technology would increase in our future as the industry capitalizes on maximized productions in aging offshore fields. However, there was little known information about these “well treatments” until Truthout and other environmental groups began to file information requests with federal regulators.

Regulators and the Fossil Fuel industry are vocal about how offshore fracking operations are always in good safety and has a clean safety record and tends to be smaller in size compared to operations onshore. 

Environmentalists are worried about chemicals used in the process because many are harmful to marine life. Many marine species like dolphins for example, are still suffering from the effects of the 2010 BP oil spill. 

Under the EPA’s current and draft permits, offshore drillers are allowed to dump an unlimited amount of fracking and acidizing chemicals overboard as long as they are mixed with the wastewater that returns from undersea wells. Oil and gas platforms dumped more than 75 billion gallons of these “produced waters” directly into the Gulf of Mexico in 2014 alone, according to the Center’s analysis of EPA records.

These large volumes of wastewater cannot contain oil and must meet toxicity standards, but oil and gas operators are only required to test the waste stream a few times a year. Monsell says these tests could easily be conducted at times when few or no fracking chemicals are present in the wastewater.

The EPA expects that chemicals being used will have little to no impact on the environment due to the large volumes of wastewater and the ocean to dilute them, however the Center points out that much of the EPA’s data on the subject comes from studies conducted in the 1980s and 1990s.

Offshore production technology has greatly advanced since those times and hundreds of frack jobs have happened in the Gulf in just the previous 5 years alone.“All they have to do is ask the Interior Department for this information, because they just compiled it all for us,” said Monsell, referencing the thousands of documents recently released to Truthout and the Center under the Freedom of Information Act.

These documents were released due to a legal settlement between the Center and the Interior Department, prove that regulators approved 1,500 fracking jobs in over 600 gulf wells between the years 2010-2014 with permit modifications that were exempt from lawful and comprehensive environmental reviews. Monsell says the EPA’s permit is another example of a federal agency “rubber-stamping” permits for offshore fracking without examining how this technology impacts our environment.

The EPA, she argues, needs to prohibit any dumping of hazardous fracking chemicals and other harmful wastes into the ocean.

“It’s the EPA’s job to protect water quality from offshore fracking, not rubber-stamp the dumping of the wastewater from this dangerous, disgusting practice,” Monsell said.

The draft permit prohibits the dumping of oil in the Gulf Coast, and introduces a new rule that requires gas and oil operators to keep inventory of the fracking and acidifying chemicals kept on board. The inventory must also be made accessible to regulators upon request. The governments up-to-date list of offshore fracking chemicals is now 15 years old, and now the Interior Department regulators are seeking to update the law. 

Monsell stresses, however, that the inventories wouldn’t track the amount of chemicals being dumped overboard, and the public won’t have access until the EPA or Interior Department requests copies first. Even with that, watchdogs will have to be patient with the government to process more information requests to make inventories public.