Unconventional Oil And Gas Development - Key Environmental And Public Health RequirementsSource: United States Government Accountability Office
As with conventional oil and gas development, requirements from eight federal environmental and public health laws apply to unconventional oil and gas development. For example, the Clean Water Act (CWA) regulates discharges of pollutants into surface waters. Among other things, CWA requires oil and gas well site operators to obtain permits for discharges of produced water—which includes fluids used for hydraulic fracturing, as well as water that occurs naturally in oil- or gas-bearing formations—to surface waters. In addition, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) governs the management and disposal of hazardous wastes, among other things. However, key exemptions or limitations in regulatory coverage affect the applicability of six of these environmental and public health laws. For example, CWA also generally regulates stormwater discharges by requiring that facilities associated with industrial and construction activities get permits, but the law and its regulations largely exempt oil and gas well sites. In addition, oil and gas exploration and production wastes are exempt from RCRA hazardous waste requirements based on a regulatory determination made by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1988. EPA generally retains its authorities under federal environmental and public health laws to respond to environmental contamination.
All six states in GAO’s review implement additional requirements governing activities associated with oil and gas development and have updated some aspects of their requirements in recent years. For example, all six states have requirements related to how wells are to be drilled and how casing—steel pipe within the well—is to be installed and cemented in place, though the specifics of their requirements vary. The states also have requirements related to well site selection and preparation, which may include baseline testing of water wells before drilling or stormwater management.