Ad hoc review panel of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Science Advisory Board (SAB) raises concerns over EPA’s hydraulic fracturing study. An ad hoc panel of the EPA’s SAB recently issued a draft report raising concerns over some of the conclusions in EPA’s multiyear study that reviewed the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water supplies. The SAB is a scientific body charged with peer review of EPA’s scientific findings on a variety of issues. In particular, the panel expressed concern with EPA’s conclusion that there is no evidence of “widespread, systematic impacts on drinking water.” In its draft, the panel also stressed that many of the impacts of hydraulic fracturing are local in nature and urged that EPA failed to fully account for the uncertainties and data limitations in existing studies. In response, an EPA spokesperson defended EPA’s study, noting that EPA found very few cases involving impacts to drinking water in comparison to the large numbers of hydraulically fractured wells. The SAB will accept public comment on the draft report before the full SAB is convened to consider a final report.
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) urge Interior Department to stop issuing oil and gas leases pending environmental review. On January 14, Earthjustice, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace USA, Rainforest Action Network, Waterkeeper Alliance and WildEarth Guardians sent a letter to President Obama asking him to order the Interior Department to conduct a study of the climate effects of the federal leasing program for oil and gas development. The letter also seeks a moratorium on new leases until the study is complete, arguing that the Council on Environmental Quality has not yet completed a final draft guidance for addressing climate change in environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act and the Interior Department has not conducted a systematic review of the climate effects of the leasing program.
NGOs and Interior Department reach agreement to settle lawsuits regarding offshore hydraulic fracturing. The Interior Department and NGOs have reported reaching a tentative agreement to settle two lawsuits challenging offshore resource development using hydraulic fracturing. The lawsuits, filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and Environmental Defense Center, allege that Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management were not conducting proper environmental reviews of applications for hydraulic fracturing and acidizing from offshore platforms under the National Environmental Policy Act, Coastal Zone Management Act and Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. The terms of the proposed settlement agreement have not been made public and remain subject to final review and approval by the federal government.
Oklahoma: State agency takes action to curtail waste disposal, and residents file suit in response to seismic activity. The Oklahoma Corporation Commission’s Oil and Gas Conservation Division recently took action to curtail disposal of oil and gas waste in response to recent seismic activity, including 4.3 and 4.2 magnitude earthquakes in the Oklahoma City area. Well operators were directed to reduce disposal volumes and to conduct pressure testing. State regulators also announced a broader plan to respond to seismic activity throughout Oklahoma. In a separate action, 12 residents of an Oklahoma City suburb filed suit in state court against 12 oil and gas companies alleging that disposal of their oil and gas waste is responsible for the recent seismic activity. The complaint includes claims for negligence and strict liability for ultrahazardous activity and asserts that the recent earthquakes damaged the walls and foundations of the residents’ homes. The complaint seeks a permanent injunction to stop operations at 16 disposal wells.