Energy Exchange

How oil & gas states did (and did not) protect land and water in 2018

By Adam Peltz & Nichole Saunders

Keeping an eye on what happens with domestic oil and gas regulation is a bit like herding cats. We’ve seen encouraging progress on air quality issues related to oil and gas, but an equally critical front that’s seen major action is protection of our land and water resources.

More than 30 states actively regulate oil and gas development but their practices and rules vary significantly. Add the recent attention around industry’s impact on local communities – from earthquakes and the risk of spills to increased traffic and local air pollution – and it’s easy to miss the big trends that dominated regulatory agendas in 2018.

EDF devotes a significant amount of time tracking this activity, and 2018 was a busy year. Over a dozen states completed rule updates and other types of improvements this year on a variety of topics.

Here are the big things we saw in 2018.

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EPA-New Mexico wastewater report is a conversation starter, not the final word

This blog was co-authored by Colin Leyden and Nichole Saunders

The Environmental Protection Agency and the outgoing Martinez administration in New Mexico have produced a draft white paper and solicited comments on potential ways to reuse or manage the growing volume of wastewater produced by the state’s oil and gas industry.

While the paper is a helpful outline of current produced water policy, New Mexico decision-makers should view it as a conversation starter and not the final word. When it comes to answering questions about whether the oil and gas industry’s wastewater can be safely reused for other purposes, like food crops, livestock or, as the white paper even suggests, drinking water, there are a number of other serious factors to be considered.

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Three things to know ahead of EPA’s oil and gas wastewater meeting

Tomorrow, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will hold a special meeting to update the public about what the agency has learned since launching an examination into our nation’s current practices for handling wastewater from the oil and gas industry.

This research endeavor comes at a very salient time. The volume of wastewater generated by onshore oil and gas development is growing larger by the day – with production reaching nearly 900 billion gallons a year. This massive influx is forcing states, companies and other stakeholders to seriously think about whether our current methods for handling this wastewater are the best methods for the future based on a number of shifting dynamics.

The meeting tomorrow will allow agency officials to provide updates about what they’ve learned so far, and will give energy experts and other interested stakeholders the opportunity to weigh in with additional intel and perspectives. Here are three things to keep in mind ahead of tomorrow’s hearing. Read More »

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State leaders concerned about safety of reusing oil and gas wastewater

Regulators from across the country met in Vermont this week at the Environmental Council of the State’s (ECOS) fall meeting to discuss some of the nation’s most pressing environmental challenges. I joined members of ECOS’ Shale Gas Caucus to discuss an emerging threat imminently impacting oil and gas-producing states: the question of what to do with the massive amount of wastewater produced by the oil and gas industry each year.

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New Mexico oil and gas rules put water resources, communities at risk. Here’s how they can be improved.

By Jon Goldstein and Dan Mueller

Water is New Mexico’s most precious and limited resource, but new rules proposed by the New Mexico Oil Conservation Commission (NMOCC) fall short in efforts to better protect it.

In the face of increasing temperatures and shrinking water supplies, the state needs to be doing more – not less – to safeguard its future health and prosperity. That means strengthening the rules that protect land and water resources from the negative impacts of oil and gas operations. Read More »

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Why drinking water standards are the wrong standards for oil and gas wastewater

“It’s so clean I’d drink it.”

Travel to any recent conference or trade show on produced water management and there’s a good chance you’ll hear this line or something similar. I’ve heard it myself, alongside claims that a patented treatment delivers water that’s “fresh” or “meets drinking water standards.”

This sort of talk is on the rise as operators and regulators look for ways to reuse produced water both inside and outside of the oilfield. Some of these uses carry real risks to human health and the environment from chemicals that may be present—even after treatment. At first blush, if the product can be called “fresh” or meets drinking water standards, it doesn’t sound risky. So why the worry? The reality is that these statements tell us very little about the quality of treated produced water.

“Fresh” from a scientific perspective, means next to nothing. And drinking water standards are simply the wrong standards to apply to produced water, or for that matter any treated wastewater – industrial or municipal. Here’s why.

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