The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been studying holistically the management of wastewater generated from onshore unconventional oil and gas extraction, also known as "fracking." This study is a result of the latest (2016) Effluent Guidelines Program Plan recently published in the Federal Register. Currently "produced water," defined under 40 C.F.R. § 435.33(a)(2)(v) as "the fluid brought up from hydrocarbon-bearing strata during the extraction of oil and gas, and includes, where present, formation water, injection water, and any chemicals added downhole or during the oil/water separation process," is subject to effluent limitations which prohibit discharge to publicly owned treatment works (POTWs). As a result, this wastewater is disposed of primarily by underground injection. These wastewater injections have raised concerns, including the potential to induce earthquakes.
As a result, according to EPA, some states and stakeholders are interested in pursuing an investigation of available approaches to managing this wastewater. For example, New Mexico recently entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to further explore the possibility of re-use, recycling and beneficial use of "produced water." The parties intend to produce a white paper related to "produced water" opportunities under state and federal law in New Mexico. In addition, EPA has announced it will hold a public hearing to report on what it has learned and to solicit additional public input on Oct. 9, 2018 at 10:30 a.m. at its headquarters in Washington, D.C.. (Room 1153). These developments bear watching by those interested in the oil and gas industry.