EPA Proposes Fracking Wastewater Treatment Standards

A pretreatment proposal from the EPA would fill a gap in existing federal wastewater regulations.
EPA Proposes Fracking Wastewater Treatment Standards
Although all states, localities and municipal treatment plants currently refuse untreated produced water, the EPA hopes the proposal will provide regulatory certainty for those municipalities receiving requests from the gas and oil industry.

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing pretreatment standards for extraction water — the drilling wastewater, produced sand and produced water — from fracking and horizontal drilling. The proposal would essentially ban municipal wastewater treatment plants from receiving untreated extraction wastewater — a move that reflects current industry practice.

“This proposed rule would fill a gap in existing federal wastewater regulations to ensure that the current practice of not sending wastewater discharges from this sector to [publicly owned treatment works] continues into the future,” says the agency.

Fracking wastewater is typically managed via underground injection in disposal wells. However, the EPA states that in the past, the fracking industry has turned to public and private wastewater treatment facilities to manage wastewater. Because the influent can contain high salt concentrations along with metals, various organic and inorganic chemicals and more, it poses a risk to the biological treatment process.

“This potentially harmful wastewater creates a need for appropriate wastewater management infrastructure and practices,” reads the EPA statement.

It’s a situation some municipalities, such as the City of Auburn, New York, have already addressed. There, the city decided not to accept produced water after a headworks analysis revealed high chloride levels in the waste could damage the plant. (See, "Can Municipal Treatment Plants Handle Fracking Wastewater?")

“Chloride is already high in our waste stream,” says Douglas Selby, Auburn city manager in a Syracuse.com article. “Adding the gas well water that’s got chloride in it would possibly create issues with our biological process that nitrifies the water that converts ammonia to an inert form.”

Although all states, localities and municipal treatment plants currently refuse untreated produced water, the EPA hopes the proposal will provide regulatory certainty for those municipalities receiving requests from the gas and oil industry.

The proposed EPA rule would apply to wastewater from production, field exploration, drilling, well completion or well treatment during unconventional oil and gas extraction. It would not apply to conventional, vertical-well oil and gas operations.

A public hearing will take place on May 29 in Washington, D.C., at which time the public can provide oral comments on the proposal. All other comments are due by June 8.

To view the entire EPA proposal, click here.



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