A crude oil spill on a wetland in Mountrail County, North Dakota.
Photo source: US Fish and Wildlife Service
When the oil and gas industry spills or leaks harmful fluids – whether toxic oil or chemical-laden wastewater – the damage to local ecosystems can last for decades.
Understanding the most common causes of accidental releases could help stakeholders take corrective measures to avoid them. Unfortunately, many regulators don’t collect and make transparent critical information about how many accidents are happening, and what causes them. Read More
A ruptured natural gas pipeline in the quiet community of San Bruno, California ignited on the evening of September 9, 2010. The resulting fire destroyed 38 homes, killed eight people, and injured many others. It was one of the biggest pipeline explosions in recent history, and it very likely could have been prevented.
Now, almost six years later, the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is proposing new regulations to prevent serious incidents, like what happened in San Bruno, from happening again. Read More
If you like clean water, we’ve got good news. This week the EPA finalized an important Clean Water Act rule that cements commonsense protections for water resources. EPA’s new technology-based categorical pretreatment standard prevents unconventional oil and gas operators from delivering salty, toxic wastewater to publicly owned water treatment facilities — also known as POTWs. These facilities are designed to handle residential sewage, not industrial waste, and often are unable to treat the types of pollutants common in unconventional oil and gas wastewater.
Since 1979, the Clean Water Act has prohibited onshore oil and gas operators in the eastern U.S. from directly discharging oil and gas wastewater to surface waters, like streams and lakes. But until now, there were no rules that applied to the wastewater that is disposed of at separate treatment facilities, or “indirect discharges.”
The final POTW pretreatment rule is consistent with current industry practice, but this wasn’t always the case. Prior to 2011, oil and gas operators in Pennsylvania delivered wastewater to POTWs for treatment and disposal with terrible results. These POTWs struggled to treat unconventional oil and gas wastewater due to elevated levels of halides, heavy metals, organic compounds, radionuclides and salts. High and fluctuating TDS (salt) levels in wastewater interfered with the biological treatment processes reducing treatment efficiency. Bromides that went through POTW disinfection processes were transformed into toxic disinfection by-products and released into receiving waters. Read More