An environmental group is accusing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of violating federal pollution laws by allowing oil and gas companies to dump an unlimited quantity of fracking chemicals into the Gulf of Mexico.
The Center for Biological Diversity sent a formal comment to the EPA regarding a proposed permit that will cover oil and gas operations in the western part of the Gulf of Mexico for the next five years.
That permit proposes requiring companies for the first time to keep a list of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, but would not limit their discharge with processed water that is regularly dumped overboard.
“While the Center appreciates EPA’s new permit condition requiring oil companies to maintain an inventory of the chemicals used in offshore hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) and other well stimulation treatments, such condition does not go nearly far enough to protect Gulf ecosystems or marine species from these environmentally destructive practices,” the Center for Biological Diversity wrote in a letter to EPA Region 6 in Dallas.
The letter goes on to say the proposed permit fails to comply with the Clean Water Act and lacks a required environmental impact statement. The standard discharge permit already in place limits the amount of oil and grease, drilling fluids and processed water that can be dumped overboard and requires companies to monitor that water, but sets no such limits for the chemicals that come back up to a rig or platform after fracking.
“It is wholly shocking that EPA allows the oil and gas industry to dump its wastewater into the Gulf of Mexico,” the letter says. “This is a serious disloyalty to the public and its reliance on the agency to protect water quality.”
What’s more, the EPA apparently has not studied how fracking chemicals might affect the waters the agency is supposed to protect. EPA informed the Center for Biological Diversity in a February letter that it had no records that “mention, describe and/or analyze the impacts of chemicals used in … fracking … in the Gulf of Mexico and in the waters off the coast of California and Alaska.”
The EPA did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday afternoon.
The latest complaint takes aim at the Trump Administration, but it was under the Obama Administration that the Center for Biological Diversity was forced to sue the Interior Department to make the agency disclose information about where fracking was taking place in the Gulf and what chemicals were being used in those operations.
Fracking is the use of chemicals, shot into a well to stimulate flow of oil and gas, usually by cracking the bedrock where oil and gas is trapped. The technique stirred controversy on land with concerns about how the chemicals could affect groundwater sources. But the practice was largely ignored offshore, where it had been used in a more limited way for decades to unclog sandy deposits of oil and natural gas beneath the sea floor.
In 2014, WWL-TV was among the first news outlets to report how prevalent fracking had become in the Gulf. Obama’s Interior Department declined to provide the station with information about ongoing or future fracking permits in the Gulf, claiming those were proprietary to the oil companies even though they usually use a standard mixture and injection process called a “frac pack.”
The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement finally released a partial list of the 15 percent of new wells that had used fracking in 2013, leading to this WWL report in October 2014.