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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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EPA hearing illustrates broad support for methane rule

By Rosalie Winn and Matthew McGee

Last month, EPA held its one and only public hearing on a proposed rollback of federal methane protections.

The Trump Administration’s attempt to gut rules that cut methane pollution from new and modified oil and gas facilities—the first step of a two-pronged effort to eliminate federal regulation of methane altogether—was met by near-universal condemnation from the scores of individuals who testified at EPA’s Denver headquarters.

Opposition to the rollback came from many corners: parents concerned for their children’s health, tribal members worried about the toll on their native lands, and investors and scientists alarmed at the threat to our economy and climate.

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More than ever, EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory Program is Vital to Understanding Methane Emissions

In its 2017 GHGI Inventory, published last week, EPA estimates 2015 methane emissions from the U.S. oil and gas industry were 8.1 million metric tons,which is enough to fulfill the domestic heating needs for over 5 million homes.

In addition to estimating 2015 emissions, EPA has revised their estimates of previous years’ emissions based on new scientific data. The lower estimates compared to the 2016 Inventory is almost entirely due to new accounting methods – the actual decrease in emissions from 2014 to 2015 was only 2%, and this was due to fewer well completions resulting from lower oil and gas prices.

EPA still has room for improvement

Although the estimate of oil and gas emissions went down in this year’s report, it should not be viewed as a final answer since EPA plans to make further improvements including better accounting of super-emitters, which science has shown to be a major source of emissions. These changes likely would counteract the decreases in other emission sources. Read More »

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Want to know the leading cause of oil & gas spills? So do we.

A crude oil spill on a wetland in Mountrail County, North Dakota. Photo source: US Fish and Wildlife Service

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 »

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New EPA Guidelines: An Opportunity to Reduce Smog, Protect Public Health

By Peter Zalzal and David Lyon

With families across the country starting back to school this week, the official summer season may be gone, but the ozone season is still in full swing.

Ozone, more commonly known as “smog” is a harmful air pollutant that results in respiratory ailments like asthma and can even lead to premature death. For too many Americans, ozone pollution makes the activities that we enjoy doing outdoors in the summer difficult or even impossible.  And in recent years, ozone—once a summertime phenomenon impacting mostly larger cities—now affects rural parts of the country and can persist throughout the year.  In fact, rural Wyoming and Utah have experienced elevated ozone levels in the winter on par with some of the larger cities in the country.  Read More »

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What EPA Should Consider on Their Final “Fracking” Assessment

iStock_000058110200_Large (2)Questions about if and how hydraulic fracturing activities (or “fracking” to some) can contaminate drinking water have been top-of-mind for many since the practice started getting widespread public attention about a decade ago. Recognizing the validity of those concerns, EPA undertook a study to see how the full ‘hydraulic fracturing water cycle’ – which includes water withdrawals, chemical use and mixing, well injection, waste water management and disposal — could potentially impact our drinking water resources. In a EPA draft assessment released last fall, the agency summarized its results, saying researchers “did not find evidence that [fracking] mechanisms have led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources.”

EPA’s draft assessment synthesized valuable information and explored a number of key areas of concern. But EDF didn’t agree with the way EPA summarized its findings. And it turns out, after hearing from EDF and other experts across the country, neither do EPA’s advising scientists.

Now, through ongoing review by the Science Advisory Board, the agency is getting feedback, yet again, from dozens of concerned parties (including EDF) with vested interest in making sure EPA gets this assessment right.  Here are three things to keep in mind.
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