Environmental advocates lauded a Thursday announcement that federal regulators will develop national standards for the disposal of polluted wastewaters from fracking for natural gas.
“We think this is a solid step in the right direction,” said Bruce Baizel, an attorney with the Oil and Gas Accountability Project in Durango.
Hydraulic fracturing, a technique that uses millions of gallons of water alongside sand and chemical additives to unlock natural gas in deep formations, is being used in Colorado, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Texas and other states. The practice has increased dramatically in recent years, raising concerns about the potential impact on water quality.
The Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday it will draft standards for fracking wastewater that drillers would have to meet before sending it to treatment plants.
Baizel said the regulatory move will set national standards for coal-bed methane wastewater pretreatment and discharge in 2013 and for shale gas wastewater in 2014.
“In many states, both standards and enforcement have been lacking,” Baizel said.
It has created a need for national rules that rely on “economically achievable technologies,” he said.
An industry advocate, meanwhile, condemned the plan to regulate.
“It is perplexing that the EPA has chosen to assert new layers of regulation in an area where the states have shown strong regulatory oversight,” said Christi Zeller, executive director for the La Plata County Energy Council. “There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, making local and state authorities the most appropriate regulators.”
In La Plata County, fracking waste is reused at other sites or inserted into injection wells, Zeller said. It is not sent to treatment plants.
Still, Mike Eisenfeld, energy issues organizer for San Juan Citizens Alliance. said the federal rules are necessary.
“Some agency needs to regulate this process,” Eisenfeld said, adding that a state-by-state approach may not be adequate without more intervention from the federal government. “I think we should have a standard.”
Baizel said the rules could create economic opportunity for fracking companies that see the importance in treating the wastewater in a way that extends finite water resources in water-constrained areas such as the Four Corners.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.