Oil & Gas Issues Gain Attention

July 1, 2008
The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, sitting in San Francisco, struck down an Environmental Proteciton Agency decision that the 2005 Energy Act exempted ...

by Patrick Crow

The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, sitting in San Francisco, struck down an Environmental Protection Agency decision that the 2005 Energy Act exempted oil and gas development projects from pollution-prevention requirements of the Clean Water Act. The Natural Resources Defense Council, which brought the suit, said the CWA requires such projects to ensure their activities don't add to water quality rule violations.

It notes, "The explosion of oil and gas exploration and production poses a serious threat to water quality throughout the West. Sediment from projects runs off into streams and rivers; harming aquatic life; increasing water treatment costs for towns and cities; decreasing property values; clogging irrigation systems and interfering with recreational activities, such as fishing."

Separately, a bill was introduced by Sen. Ken Salazar (D-CO) to study potential use of "produced water" – groundwater that accompanies extraction of oil and gas – for use in irrigation in western states. It would require U.S. Department of Interior evaluate feasibility of recovering and cleaning the water, which is re-injected underground. The bill also would authorize a grant program to test produced water recovery technologies at pilot projects in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico.

"Every day, two million gallons of produced water are wasted in this nation, unfit for any use," said Salazar. "Recovering that water could help lift a huge burden off the backs of farmers, ranchers, communities and recreation users." Rep. Mark Udall (D-CO) sponsored a companion bill in the U.S. House of Representatives.

In other news:

Frost & Sullivan estimated the North American market for wastewater treatment in the power industry was $580 million in 2006 and will reach $1.17 billion in 2013. It said advanced technologies such as zero liquid discharge and flue gas desulphurization blowdown treatment devices continue to be mainstays in this sector.

EPA and the Justice Department said four of the nation's largest homebuilders – Centex Homes, KB Home, Pulte Homes, and Richmond American Homes – agreed to pay civil penalties totaling $4.3 million to resolve alleged stormwater runoff rule violations at construction sites in 34 states and the District of Columbia. In consent decrees filed in Eastern Virginia U.S. District Court, the companies also agreed to launch compliance programs that go beyond current regulatory requirements, keeping 1.2 billion pounds of sediment from polluting waterways each year.

The Justice Department said it modified a 2006 consent decree with Rohm & Haas for its Deer Park, TX, chemical plant. The deal would give the company more time to implement a supplemental environmental project expected to cost $670,000.

A Global Water Research Coalition report said, with more research, wastewater plants could extract more energy from sewage and sludge than it now takes to process it. There are 2,000 U.S. central sludge processing facilities and, as of 2004, some 650 used anaerobic digesters to process sludge and produce methane gas.

The U.S. Geological Survey reported that irrigation was the largest use of water in the Great Lakes basin and 70-to-100% was lost to the basin. The study examined "consumptive" water use, including domestic and public supply, industrial, electric power, irrigation, livestock, commercial, and mining.

About the Author: Patrick Crow covered the U.S. Congress and federal agencies for 21 years as a reporter for industry magazines. Now a Houston, TX-based freelance writer, he has reported on water issues for over 10 years.

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