New regulations are on the horizon for wastewater produced as a byproduct of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”). In 2012, fracking operations produced over 280 billion gallons of wastewater. This water can be sent to treatment plants, re-injected deep into the earth in “disposal wells,” or processed and re-used in fracking operations. In response to the growth of fracking, the EPA recently submitted to the White House Office of Management and Budget a national pretreatment standard for fracking wastewater. The standard would apply to fracking wastewater that is sent to municipal or centralized treatment plants, but not to water stored in disposal wells. The EPA believes that the pretreatment standards will assist entities in meeting the EPA’s existing effluent limits under the Clean Water Act.
The new pretreatment rules are expected to set limits on a number of possible elements in fracking wastewater, including benzene, cadmium, and lead. Additionally, the rules will provide guidance on the acceptable pH of the wastewater, and will address the presence of naturally occurring radioactive material.
These pretreatment standards have been in the works for some time; the EPA announced its intention to draft these standards back in October 2011. Opponents to the pretreatment standard argued that the regulation is better conducted at a state level, because geology–and thus the composition of the wastewater–differs greatly between states such as Pennsylvania and Texas. Critics have also posited that the standard has become unnecessary since the EPA began formulating the rules three years ago, as fracking operators increasingly reuse and recycle wastewater rather than sending it to municipal or centralized treatment plants.
Despite these objections, the EPA has moved forward with the rule, and a notice of proposed rulemaking will be published in early 2015, with the final rule anticipated in early 2016.