Weakness in state regulations governing hazardous oil-and-gas waste have allowed the leftovers to be disposed of with little regard to the dangers they pose to human health and the environment, according to a recent study by the environmental organization Earthworks.
The report says states disregard the risks because of a decades-old federal regulation that allows oil-and-gas waste to be handled as non-hazardous material. Those rules, established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1988, exempted the waste from the stricter disposal requirements required of hazardous substances and allowed the states to establish their own disposal standards.
In its report, “Wasting Away: Four states’ failure to manage gas and oil field waste from the Marcellus and Utica Shale,” Earthworks studied rules governing disposal of the often toxic waste––and the gaps in those regulations in New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio.
The organization, which is often criticized by the industry as being consistently biased, concludes the EPA was wrong when it applied the non-hazardous label to oil-and-gas waste.
“Drilling waste harms the environment and health, even though states have a mandate to protect both,” said Bruce Baizel, co-author of the report and Earthworks’ energy program director.
“Their current ‘see no evil’ approach is part of the reason communities across the country are banning fracking altogether. States have a clear path forward: if the waste is dangerous and hazardous, stop pretending it isn’t and treat it and track it like the problem it is.”
Disposal of oil-and-gas waste has generated little attention, yet it puts people at risk of exposure to chemicals including benzene, which can cause cancer. It has escaped scrutiny as a factor in air and water pollution and a possible contributor to the acceleration of climate change.