Regulators in 27 states, which collectively account for 98% of domestic oil and natural gas production, have "substantially improved groundwater protection laws and regulations governing oil and natural gas production," according to a report by the Ground Water Protection Council (GWPC).
The 122-page report released Wednesday, "State Oil & Gas Regulations Designed to Protect Water Resources," is an update to a similar report issued in 2009 (see Daily GPI, June 2, 2009).
"There's no question that state agencies are on the forefront of oil and gas regulation and are diligently working to address the safety and environmental issues surrounding modern energy development," said GWPC Executive Director Mike Paque. "Since our 2009 report, states have continued to update and strengthen their rules addressing the critical areas in nearly every subject area we examined. In addition, state oil and natural gas regulatory agencies have adopted new practices to address the technological, legal and practical changes in oil and gas exploration and production."
GWPC said that since 2009, several states have added permitting requirements, including public notice prior to some permits being issued. More states are also denying, delaying or revoking permits if applicants run afoul of their oil and gas laws, and many now require operators to review the geology around a wellbore to evaluate potential pathways for flowback during completion operations.
Sixteen states now require public notice before the issuance of a permit, GWPC said, compared to seven states in 2009.
The organization also found that more states are now directly regulating hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and are requiring baseline water testing before and after the practice.
"Looking forward, proposed [fracking] regulations focus on regulator notification to allow witnessing of completions; prohibitions on chemical use; disclosure requirements for base water and chemicals used; mechanical integrity testing prior to treatment; and operational monitoring, especially of pressures, during treatment," GWPC said, adding that eight states had proposed such rules as of late 2013.
"Of these issues, chemical disclosure has the most widespread regulatory activity, with six states conducting rulemakings on the issue. In fact, chemical disclosure has been one of the popular subjects for rulemakings in recent years, and nearly every major oil- and gas-producing state has addressed or is addressing this issue."
The organization said fracking in 13 states is currently governed by specific state law, up from only four states in 2009. GWPC added that 21 states also require the disclosure of chemicals used in fracking, up from nine states in 2009.
According to the GWPC, the number of states with laws governing well integrity, temporary abandonment, well plugging and the use of wastewater pits for storage have all also increased. Meanwhile, wastewater tank construction standards have evolved and the treatment and reuse of produced water is increasing. The organization also took note that five states had enacted rules concerning spill response in late 2013, making it the most common topic for rulemaking after the disclosure of chemicals used in fracking.
"Assessing the status of all states' regulatory progress is impossible in one snapshot," said Leslie Savage, GWPC board president and chief geologist for the oil and gas division of the Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC). "Just as states continue to view oil and gas regulation as an ongoing, long-term commitment, our report is part of an ongoing review and assessment of how the community of states is responding to the country's rapid increase in oil and gas exploration and production."
In a statement, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) said it was encouraged by the GWPC's findings, but said states still needed to do more.
"Effective environmental regulation is not a 'set it and forget it' exercise," said Scott Anderson, senior policy advisor for the EDF. "This report demonstrates that states realize it takes committing to a process of continual improvement to ensure the clean water protections communities expect and deserve.
"The momentum documented in this report is encouraging, yet the fact remains that the oil and gas industry is rapidly expanding without important public health and environmental protections for our air, water and communities. [We believe] that states continue to have work to do to revise, create and expand their rulebooks and devote the necessary resources to enforce those rules."
The 27 states analyzed by GWPC are Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming.