On Thursday, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced plans to begin regulating wastewater discharges associated with hydraulic fracturing and shale gas production. The rulemaking process, which will begin in 2014, is geared towards developing standards for the disposal of wastewater from shale gas drilling.
Some shale gas industry members welcomed the announcement noting that state regulators, who are in the best position to craft guidelines for their geography, were highly involved in this process and that the current regulation system accounted for variability in volume, regional environmental conditions and available management methods for produced water. Industry members also reiterated their commitment to cooperating with the EPA and other stakeholders in the development of these standards. Meanwhile, the EPA says it will consider standards based on demonstrated, economically achievable technologies, for shale gas wastewater that must be met before going to a treatment facility. Current laws prohibit wastewater from shale gas production from being directly discharged into waterways and other waters of the U.S. Some states such as Pennsylvania and West Virginia have banned drillers from transporting shale gas wastewater to wastewater treatment plants ill-equipped for such wastewater. The EPA also plans to start a similar rulemaking initiative for wastewater discharges from coal-bed methane production in 2013. Presently, there are no federal laws or rules which specifically regulate wastewater from coalbed methane, instead such regulation is left up to the individual states.