The Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to review its regulations on how companies should dispose of oil and gas waste, a result of a lawsuit brought on by several environmental groups in May.
“Safeguards to protect our scarce water resources in the San Juan Basin, home to 40,000 wells, have been ignored for far too long,” said Dan Olson, executive director of San Juan Citizens Alliance. “Updating rules for oil and gas waste, deemed inadequate 30 years ago, is critical for this region.”
In May, a coalition of environmental groups filed a lawsuit against the EPA, claiming the agency has failed to meet its own expectations set in the 1980s to review oil and gas regulations, as well as guidelines for states, every three years.
“Since that time, nearly nine successive three-year deadlines have passed with no further review,” according to a notice of intent filed in August 2015. “(Current regulations) do not specifically address issues relevant to the modern oil and gas industry.”
EPA did not immediately respond to requests seeking comment.
On Dec. 28, the EPA and environmental groups reached a settlement: The EPA will review its regulations on oil and gas waste, and if the agency deems it “necessary,” make revisions to the guidelines.
The EPA has until March 15, 2019, to determine whether or not changes are warranted for “wastes associated with the exploration, development, or production of crude oil, natural gas, or geothermal energy.”
According to the court document, the EPA must make a formal announcement either way, and then provide a decision of notice to the environmental groups within seven days.
“The EPA itself deemed current regulations inadequate nearly 30 years ago,” said Erika Brown, with the San Juan Citizens Alliance. “The consent decree is a big step forward for holding the EPA accountable to regulate oil and gas waste in ways that protect human and environmental health.”
The settlement also includes a clause in the case president-elect Donald Trump makes good on his promise to defund the EPA.
“(Environmental groups) and EPA recognize that the possibility exists that a lapse in appropriations by Congress resulting in government shutdown could delay EPA’s performance of obligations contained in this Consent Decree,” the court document says.
“In the event of a government shutdown affecting EPA that occurs within 120 days prior to a deadline … deadline shall be extended automatically one day for each day of the shutdown.”
Other plaintiffs in the lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, include the Environmental Integrity Project, Natural Resources Defense Council, Earthworks, Responsible Drilling Alliance, West Virginia Surface Owners’ Rights Organization, and the Center for Health, Environment and Justice.