Climate

One Congressman’s Fight To Keep Fracking Waste Out Of Drinking Water

CREDIT: AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA) has reintroduced a bill to make sure fracking wastewater can't enter the public water treatment system.

The fracking industry has a water problem. Wastewater from fracking has been linked to drinking water contamination, and earthquakes.

But obviously oil and gas companies can’t dump fracking water into our public water treatment system, right?

Wrong.

In fact, that ability is the subject of a current Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposal. The Effluent Limitations Guidelines and Standards for Oil and Gas Extraction would ban fracking wastewater from being treated at publicly owned water treatment plants. The comment period for the proposal ends Friday.

“It’s crazy that highly toxic, radioactive wastewater can be treated like bathwater,” Rachel Richardson, the director of Environment America’s Stop Drilling program, said on a call Thursday. Richardson and her group have collected 30,000 signatures showing support for making the proposal into a rule under the Clean Water Act.

Even after treatment, wastewater from fracking remains salty — meaning it has chemical compounds like bromides. When bromide is treated with chlorine, as the water would be in a sewage treatment plant, for instance, it turns into trihalomethane — which is linked to bladder cancer, miscarriages and stillbirths.

How to deal with wastewater from fracking — an extraction method in which producers inject large volumes of chemical-laced water into the ground, releasing pockets of oil and gas — has become a hot-button issue for many environmentalists. As the industry has boomed in recent years, more and more water needs to be contained or treated.

In fact, Richardson’s group maintains that the water safety issue is so great that fracking should be banned altogether. “We recognize that there is no safe or sustainable way to deal with this waste,” she said.

And while no company is currently using the public wastewater system, there is nothing to stop them. Environmentalists and policymakers are concerned the oil and gas companies will increasingly turn to the public water treatment system for disposal, especially as they face increased pressure on current disposal methods, such as pumping wastewater into underground wells, which has been linked to earthquakes.

Congressman Matt Cartwright (D-PA) joined the call Thursday, offering his support to the EPA proposal and pledging to reintroduce legislation that will close environmental loopholes for oil and gas companies.

“The rule proposed by the EPA is not going to comprehensibly protect us,” Cartwright said. “It is finally time to treat the oil and gas industries as we do every other industry.”

Under the so-called “Halliburton Rule” — the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act — oil and gas companies are exempt from multiple environmental protection regulations, including the Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Water Act, and Clean Air Act.

Cartwright’s legislation is part of a larger package, known as the “frack pack” that seeks to close loopholes in environmental regulation of oil and gas activities. H.R. 1175 would allow the EPA to require states to permit fracking runoff and other effluents. The EPA is currently prohibited from requiring that type of oversight.

Cartwright acknowledged that new clean water legislation will be difficult to usher through the current Congress, but he said he is “very confident” that the fracking industry will see greater environmental regulation.

“It’s off the charts how much people care about clean water in our district,” he said. “Ultimately, the will of the people wins out.”