Companies Assist EPA In Hydraulic Fracturing Study

Jan. 1, 2011
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said that nine companies are supplying information to support its study on hydraulic fracturing.

By Patrick Crow, Washington Correspondent

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said that nine companies are supplying information to support its study on hydraulic fracturing.

The oil industry's use of chemicals in the hydraulic fracturing, which boosts the flow of oil and gas from geologic formations, has damaged drinking water supplies in some areas.

Congress has mandated that EPA examine the potential adverse impact of the practice on drinking water and public health. It must provide initial results by the end of 2012.

EPA announced plans for its study in March and then held public meetings in major oil and gas production regions.

Last September EPA asked nine leading national and regional hydraulic fracturing service providers for information. They were BJ Services, Complete Production Services, Halliburton, Key Energy Services, Patterson-UTI, RPC, Inc., Schlumberger, Superior Well Services, and Weatherford. All but Halliburton supplied the data voluntarily.

EPA requested data on the chemical composition of fluids used in the hydraulic fracturing process, data on the impacts of the chemicals on human health and the environment, standard operating procedures at their hydraulic fracturing sites and the locations of sites where fracturing has been conducted.

Power Plant Pollution

EPA, in response to pressure from environmental groups, has agreed to new rules that would reduce water pollution from coal-fueled power plants.

The Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) and Earthjustice argued that the clean water rules to reduce emissions of heavy metals like arsenic, lead, chromium, and mercury were long overdue.

EPA has agreed to a consent decree under which it would issue proposed rules by July 23, 2012, with final rules due by Jan. 31, 2014.

EIP attorney Jennifer Peterson said, "These rules were supposed to have been written nearly 30 years ago. Wastewater treatment is affordable, and our waterways are not a dumping ground for toxic waste from coal-fired power plants. We appreciate EPA's commitment to get these long overdue rules back on track."

Earthjustice said in the absence of EPA national standards, the Clean Water Act requires state agencies to limit on the discharge of pollutants from power plants on a case-by-case basis.

The environmental groups said toxic metals in power plant wastewater discharges pose serious health and environmental risks even in very low doses. Arsenic is a carcinogen that causes cancer, mercury is detrimental to human health, and selenium impedes the growth of fish and causes deformities.

The environmental groups said power plants produce more toxic waste than any other industry in the U.S. They said as power companies install pollution controls to meet Clean Air Act requirements, toxic metals are transferred from the air and become concentrated in coal ash and wastewater.

Toxics Release Inventory

Meanwhile, EPA has released its annual Toxics Release Inventory, providing information on toxic chemical discharges, as well as information on waste management and pollution prevention activities.

The agency said in 2009, 3.37 billion pounds of toxic chemicals were released into the environment, a 12% decrease from 2008.

The analysis included data on 650 chemicals from more than 20,000 facilities. It found that total releases to air decreased 20% since 2008, while releases to surface water decreased 18%. Releases to land decreased 4% since 2008.

The report showed decreases in the releases of persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic chemicals including lead, dioxin, and mercury. Total disposal or other releases of mercury decreased 3% since 2008, while total disposal or other releases of both dioxin and lead decreased by 18%.

The analysis also showed a 7% decrease in the number of reporting facilities, continuing a trend from the past few years. EPA said some of the decline may be attributed to the economic downturn.

Separately, EPA observed the 30th Anniversary of the Superfund program. Created by the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act on Dec. 11, 1980, the program was designed to clean industrial sites.

Since 1980, EPA has completed construction of cleanup remedies at 67.5% of final and deleted sites on the National Priorities List. The Superfund program has returned nearly 1.3 million acres of land to productive use and made 455,800 acres ready for anticipated use.

In other Washington news:

-- EPA said Davis Wire Corp. of Irwindale, Calif., pleaded guilty to one count of negligent discharge of acidic pollutants into a publicly owned treatment works. A judge has ordered the company to pay $1.5 million in restitution to the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts for damage done to its sewer system and a $25,000 criminal fine.

--The U.S. Geological Survey has reported that coal-tar-based pavement sealant is the largest source of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) found in a survey of 40 urban lakes. Some PAHs are probable human carcinogens.

-- The Justice Department and EPA said Beazer Homes USA Inc. has agreed to pay a $925,000 civil penalty to resolve Clean Water Act violations at its construction sites in 21 states. Beazer also will reduce stormwater runoff at current and future construction sites.

-- In response to low levels of oil production-related contaminants in the water supply of Poplar, Mont., and the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, EPA has ordered three oil companies to monitor the situation and develop contingency plans. They are Murphy Exploration & Production Co., Pioneer Natural Resources USA Inc., and Samson Hydrocarbons Co.

-- EPA said contractors have completed the dredging of 242,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment from a 5.5 mile section of the Ottawa River in Toledo, Ohio. EPA provided $23.5 million for the project, the Ottawa River Group $23.5 million, and the city provided space in its municipal landfill.

-- EPA has ordered Range Natural Gas Co. to protect homeowners near a well in Parker County, Texas, who have complained about high levels of methane in their drinking water.

-- EPA said it will use its authority under the Clean Water Act to halt the proposed disposal of mining waste in streams at the Mingo-Logan Coal Company's Spruce No. 1 coal mine. EPA has used this Clean Water Act authority in just 12 circumstances since 1972 and reserves this authority for only unacceptable cases. The Spruce No. 1 permit was first proposed in the 1990s and has been held up in the courts ever since.

-- Two New England shipyards will pay penalties to settle claims by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that they violated federal environmental laws. Rose's Oil Service, a shipyard and fuel oil distributor in Gloucester, Mass., will pay $130,000 to resolve claims it violated federal water and oil pollution prevention laws. Promet Marine Services, which builds, repairs and retrofits vessels in Providence, will pay $290,000 twto settle claims by EPA that it violated federal clean air and clean water laws.

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