Study of Oil and Gas Extraction Wastewater Management
EPA is embarking on a new study that will take a holistic look at how the Agency, states, tribes and stakeholders regulate and manage wastewater from the oil and gas industry.
Large volumes of wastewater are generated in the oil and gas industry, and projections show that these volumes will only increase. Currently the majority of this wastewater is managed by disposing of it using a practice known as underground injection, where that water can no longer be accessed or used. The limits of injection are evident in some areas, and new approaches are becoming necessary. Some states and stakeholders are asking whether it makes sense to continue to waste this water, particularly in water scarce areas of the country, and what steps would be necessary to treat and renew it for other purposes.
The focus of the Agency’s study will be to engage with states, tribes and stakeholders to consider available approaches to manage wastewater from both conventional and unconventional oil and gas extraction at onshore facilities. EPA’s study will address questions such as how existing federal approaches to produced waterProduced waterThe fluid brought up from the hydrocarbon-bearing strata during the extraction of oil and gas, and includes, where present, formation water, injection water, and any chemicals added downhole or during the oil/water separation process. [40 CFR 435.33 (v)] management under the Clean Water Act can interact more effectively with state and tribal regulations, requirements or policy needs, and whether potential federal regulations that may allow for broader discharge of treated produced water to surface waters are supported. EPA is particularly interested in working with its regulatory partners at the state level, who are at the forefront of the changing industry, and often manage complex water allocation programs under state law.
EPA plans to reach out to states, tribes and stakeholders—including industry and NGOs—to facilitate conversations. Following this study, EPA will determine if future Agency actions are appropriate to further address oil and gas extraction wastewater.