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Groups to sue EPA in effort to better regulate disposal of fracking waste

Eight environmental organizations announced today they intend to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to force it to set new and tighter standards for disposal of oil and gas drilling and fracking waste that they say threatens public health and the environment.

The groups, in a notice of intent to sue filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., allege that the EPA has failed for 27 years to update and tighten baseline drilling and waste disposal regulations, as required by the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the federal law that governs waste disposal.

Adam Kron, an attorney at the Environmental Integrity Project, a D.C.-based environmental group and one of those that filed the notice, said the EPA should “do its legal duty” and follow its own 1988 determination that concluded changes were needed in federal regulations for oil and gas waste.

“The oil and gas industry has grown rapidly since then, and yet EPA has repeatedly shirked its duties for nearly three decades,” Mr. Kron said. “The public deserves better protection than this.”

The official court filing of a notice gives the EPA 60 days to review and revise the regulations for disposal of the waste, which includes carcinogenic chemicals and radioactive waste found in drilling muds, drilling waste water and fracking flowback water. If EPA does not begin to revise its rules and commit to a schedule for completing those revisions within the next two months, the groups plan to ask the federal court to set tight deadlines for a regulatory update.

The oil and gas industry has opposed efforts to update and expand federal waste regulations, maintaining that state regulations are working well.

But the environmental organizations say state regulations are inadequate, inconsistent and poorly enforced, and the stricter federal rules are needed to address the problems created by an expanded shale gas drilling industry. They cited myriad examples of pollution caused by leaks, spills and industry practices, including open-air drilling waste pits and waste water impoundments, and disposal of waste in landfills and deep injection wells.

The 30,000 injection wells nationwide accept 2 billion gallons of waste water a day, and according to several studies have triggered hundreds of small earthquakes in Ohio, Colorado, Texas and Oklahoma.

The drilling and fracking wastes contain contaminants that pose serious risks to human health and the environment, said Aaron Mintzes of Earthworks, a national environmental organization.

“Neither EPA nor the states have handled the important question of what to do with this waste, some of which meets classifications for hazardous and toxic and ignitable,” Mr. Mintzes said.

The Natural Resources Defense Council filed a rule-making petition in 2011, asking the EPA to update the waste rules, but received no response, said Matthew McFeeley, a council attorney.

The EPA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In addition to the EIP, NRDC and Earthworks, groups filing the notice include Responsible Drilling Alliance, San Juan Citizens Alliance, West Virginia Surface Owners Rights Organization, and the Center for Health, Environment and Justice.

This article was written by Don Hopey from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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