The Environmental Protection Agency is failing to protect water wells by not performing its Congressionally mandated job of inspecting or regulating oil and gas drilling operations.
That is the conclusion of a newly released report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the government-funded independent entity that audits government agencies and departments for Congress.
Fracking operations may be a threat to wells, GAO said.
“Every day in the United States, at least 2 billion gallons of fluids are injected into over 172,000 wells to enhance oil and gas production, or to dispose of fluids brought to the surface during the extraction of oil and gas resources,” the report said. “These wells are subject to regulation to protect drinking water sources under EPA’s UIC class II program and approved state class II programs.”
Class II wells involve oil and natural gas drilling.
“Because much of the population relies on underground sources for drinking water, these wells have raised concerns about the safety of the nation’s drinking water,” the report said.
The EPA, the report said, is “not consistently conducting two key oversight and enforcement activities” to protect the nation’s underground water.
The GAO also found that the EPA had not done enough to assess potential new dangers from fracking-induced earthquakes.
“The safeguards do not address emerging underground injection risks, such as seismic activity and overly high pressure in geologic formations leading to surface outbreaks of fluids,” the report said.
What the GAO Found
According to the report:
- The EPA has not changed or updated the rules governing fracking since the 1980s, even though fracking technology has changed greatly since then. Some of the fracking processes used today were only invented a few years ago.
- Much of the data the EPA has collected about fracking is unreliable.
- The EPA has not increased the funding for Underground Injection Control in 10 years, even though the amount of fracking has increased greatly since then.
- The EPA’s current plan for fracking regulation does not take seismic activity into account.
- The EPA does not regularly inspect fracking operations for safety or contamination.
- The EPA is not doing a good job overseeing state enforcement of fracking regulations.
The report faulted the agency for outsourcing enforcement of such regulations to the states. In around 39 states, inspections are handled by state agencies.
“The federal government’s watchdog is saying what communities across the country have known for years: Fracking is putting Americans at risk,” Amy Mall of the Natural Resources Defense Council told The Los Angeles Times. “From drinking-water contamination to man-made earthquakes, the reckless way oil and gas companies deal with their waste is a big problem. Outdated rules and insufficient enforcement are largely to blame. EPA needs to rein in this industry run amok.”
Are you concerned about fracking ruining well water? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.