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Louisiana Must Rethink Produced Water Discharge

The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) must modify permitting for the discharge of produced water and other offshore oil and gas industry waste to the Gulf of Mexico to "insure that the environmental costs of discharging produced water directly into the territorial seas of Louisiana are being minimized or avoided as much as possible..." an appeals court said Friday.

"The main concern raised in this matter is the fact that the permit does not provide for any direct testing of the sediments and marine life of the territorial seas to verify that no significant environmental impacts are being caused by produced water discharges," the court said.

The decision by the Louisiana State Court of Appeal First Circuit upheld the position of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN) that DEQ failed to protect the public from pollution and possible radiation poisoning when it issued oil and gas permits for exploration without proper monitoring of the impact on territorial waters, LEAN said.

"This is a major victory for LEAN and other clean water advocates in Louisiana -- a state known for its industry-friendly leanings," the group said. "The court's decision recognizes the merit of LEAN's allegation that dangerous amounts of radioactive material are released into the Gulf waters every year when commercial oil and gas discharges -- including deck drainage, produced water, well treatment and workover fluids, hydrostatic test and other waste waters related to exploration, development and production by oil and gas companies -- are dumped directly into the sea."

DEQ spokesman Rodney Malett told NGI the agency only received the ruling Friday and has not had time to completely review it. However, he said DEQ would comply by mounting a study, although he could not say when it would begin or how long it would take.

LEAN maintained that uranium, radon gases and radium are present in produced water, "yet no estimates of these radioactive discharges have been publicly released by the federal government." However, the Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] did require produced water testing and monitoring in the Gulf until 2002, when "DEQ failed to continue the permitting process," the group said.

The court wrote, "...[I]t appears the [Louisiana DEQ] abused its discretion in failing to address the potential environmental impacts identified by the EPA in issuing the initial [national pollutant discharge elimination system] permit, since the evidence submitted has not been shown to support [DEQ's] basic finding that the discharge of produced water to the territorial seas of Louisiana will cause no significant bioaccumulative impacts."

The lawsuit filed by LEAN documented that DEQ was not requiring rig owners to test for radioactive material in their produced-water discharge or for an independent environmental impact statement to assess the risk related to these discharges. The court said DEQ failed to protect the public interest based on a preponderance of evidence that produced waters are indeed dangerous.

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