Shale Daily / NGI All News Access

Pennsylvania Congressman Steps-Up Investigation of Unconventional Oil, Gas Waste

A Pennsylvania congressman has expanded his investigation of how states regulate, monitor and punish the mishandling of waste generated by the horizontal hydraulic fracturing (fracking) process by sending letters to the leaders of environmental agencies in Ohio and West Virginia.

U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, a Democrat representing parts of six northeast Pennsylvania counties, wrote the letters to Randy Huffman, cabinet secretary of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, and Craig Butler, director of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, asking for information about the states' reporting requirements for unconventional operators, waste transporters and disposal site operators. He also requested more than three years of data regarding, among other things, the number of investigations, inspections and violations involving unconventional oil and gas waste.

Under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), unconventional waste is categorized and regulated as a non-hazardous material. Last month, Cartwright sent a letter requesting similar information from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

The letters follow an investigation Cartwright started shortly after the Pennsylvania Auditor General released a scathing 158-page report in July criticizing the DEP for failing to keep pace with the breakneck rate of oil and gas development in the state, including its waste management regulations (see Shale DailyJuly 22).

Cartwright also has introduced legislation targeting the exemptions for unconventional waste under the RCRA. Cartwright is leading a broader effort being undertaken by a subcommittee of the Oversight and Government Reform committee.

"If not handled properly, these fracking wastes can contaminate nearby lands and waters and cause harm to human health and the environment. Due to the RCRA exemption, tracking the production, movement and disposal of fracking wastes falls to state governments," Cartwright wrote in his letter. "The subcommittee minority is conducting this oversight to determine if state regulations and monitoring of fracking waste are sufficient to ensure accuracy, completeness and compliance with applicable environmental laws."

The transport and disposal of unconventional waste, particularly in Class II underground injection wells, has stirred the ire of activists and some residents in communities across the Appalachian Basin and other producing regions in the country. In Appalachia, for example, as unconventional production has skyrocketed in the Marcellus Shale of Pennsylvania so too has the amount of waste generated by the process. Oil and gas wastewater went from 14 million barrels in the first half of 2013 to 15.6 million barrels during the same period this year, according to the latest DEP data available (see Shale DailySept. 19).

Most of that -- nearly 11 million barrels -- was recycled or reused, with the rest heading for disposal wells in Ohio and West Virginia, according to state data.

The few injection wells that are in operation across Pennsylvania have come under increasing scrutiny. On Tuesday, the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) announced that a watershed had filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit filed by an injection well operator in Indiana County, PA.

The CELDF billed the move as the first time "an ecosystem in the United States filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit to defend its own rights to exist and flourish." In August, the Pennsylvania General Energy Co. filed a lawsuit against Grant Township, PA, claiming that a bill of rights it passed to protect the Little Mahoning Watershed violated the company's rights as a corporation to own and operate an underground injection well there.

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