Groups Seek Guidelines to Protect Groundwater from Fracking

Sept. 2, 2012
Three water groups have proposed guidelines to protect groundwater from the hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells.

By Patrick Crow, Washington Correspondent

Three water groups have proposed guidelines to protect groundwater from the hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells.

The American Water Works Association, the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies and the National Association of Water Companies said oil and gas developments must protect ground water and surface water resources.

They said the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should use existing Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) authority to regulate oil and gas well construction and operation through the Underground Injection Control (UIC) program.

Also, Congress should remove statutory barriers impeding federal regulation and oversight of oil and gas wells under the UIC program, particularly involving fracturing.

They said EPA should also use its Clean Water Act (CWA) authority to regulate discharges to surface water bodies from oil and gas operations, including the expedited preparation of effluent guidelines under the CWA's National Pollution Discharge Elimination System program.

Finally, Congress should provide adequate resources to EPA and partner federal agencies necessary to support timely research and regulatory oversight under the SDWA, CWA and other appropriate statutes.

The water groups said that the impact of drilling and completion activities on ground water and surface water supplies should be actively monitored, and the federal government should ensure the that hydraulic fracturing activities are reported to local governments.

"Notification is critical to addressing community impacts, including mitigating potential implications for drinking water supplies. Drinking water systems need information about the chemicals to be injected in conjunction with hydraulic fracturing activities, as well as the amount and sources of water to be used," they said.

Pennsylvania Water Study

The U.S. Geological Survey and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection detected low concentrations of contaminants -- including pharmaceuticals, hormones and organic wastewater compounds -- in rivers and streams throughout Pennsylvania during a four year study.

"These findings are intended to help wastewater and drinking water managers to make decisions about water treatment options given the ever increasing number of new compounds that come into use and end up in the state's waterways each year," said Andrew Reif, the USGS scientist who led the study.

The 10 most frequently detected compounds represented a wide variety of uses, but all were derived from human sources. None of the most commonly detected compounds were typically used in agricultural operations and most entered the stream environment from municipal wastewater treatment facilities or septic systems.

Throughout the state, the most commonly found compounds in stream water were caffeine; acetaminophen; carbamazepine – a seizure medication; sulfamethoxazole and trimethoprim – antibiotics; and the hormone estrone. Other commonly detected compounds include the antihistamine diphenhydramine; the antibiotics azithromycin, erythromycin, and ofloxacin; the flame retardant tri(dichloroisopropyl) phosphate; and the insecticide DEET.

In the heavily agricultural south-central part of the state, the most commonly detected contaminants in stream water samples were carbamazepine, sulfamethoxazole, and tri(dichloroisopropyl) phosphate–a flame retardant. The contaminants most commonly detected in sediment samples were the antibiotics ofloxacin and trimethoprim, estrone, and the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons benzo[a]pyrene, fluoranthene, phenanthrene, and pyrene.

Tests of waters downstream from wastewater discharge sites showed higher concentrations and numbers of compounds detected than from tests of water upstream of those sites, indicating that wastewater discharges are a source of contaminants.

The concentrations of individual contaminants were generally low, less than 50 nanograms per liter, equal to less than one drop of water in an Olympic-sized swimming pool. Concentrations and compounds found near some of the state's sources of drinking water were consistent with compounds and concentrations found in other studies throughout the nation.

The report said that when used for drinking water, the amounts of many of the contaminants can be eliminated or reduced by conventional or advanced treatments at water treatment facilities. It noted that drinking-water standards have not been established for the individual compounds or for the mixtures found, so the potential human-health risk of chemicals that may be present in drinking water after treatment is unknown.

Water Supply Reservoirs

American Rivers has urged Southeastern U.S. communities to carefully evaluate the construction of water supply reservoirs.

The environmental group said many local governments throughout Georgia, the Carolinas and neighboring states are considering constructing water supply reservoirs. Collectively, current reservoir proposals in Georgia could total $10 billion.

"Building a water supply reservoir is an incredibly expensive undertaking that carries tremendous risk and saddles communities with debt, with no guarantee they'll receive the hoped-for water," said Jenny Hoffner, director of water supply for American Rivers.

The report said reservoirs are very expensive, their price tags tend to increase, their financing plans often rely on inflated population growth projections, they depend on uncertain rainfall, and competing demands for river water make water supplies problematic.

For example, American Rivers said the Hickory Log Creek Reservoir for Canton, GA, quintupled in price during its development and the debt burden has hurt the town's ability to address basic community needs.

The group said that rather than proposing new reservoirs, government leaders should first optimize existing water infrastructure. It said they should plan for water use to decrease as a community grows and pursue flexible water supply solutions.

In other Washington developments:

--Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) has introduced a bill to raise $9 billion per year for the federal Clean Water state revolving loan fund, financed by taxes on consumer liquids containers, drugs, and products disposed of through sewer systems.
--Four senators have urged EPA not to require "inherently safer technology" practices at facilities, including water utilities, which use large amounts of certain hazardous chemicals. They were James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), David Vitter (R-La.) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.).
--Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) has introduced a bill to provide federal tax credits of up to 30% for projects that increase water efficiency at manufacturing plants. They would include water reuse, recycling, and efficiency investments related to process, sanitary, and cooling water.
--EPA said Chattanooga, TN, will pay a $476,400 penalty and rehabilitate its sewer collection system to eliminate overflows of untreated sewage. It also agreed to restore and stabilize the banks of a South Chickamauga Creek tributary at a cost of $800,000.

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