AXPC and API Offer Potential Solutions to Modernize EPA’s Produced Water Rules

AXPC recently joined the American Petroleum Institute (API) to submit a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) highlighting ways the agency could update its rules about how oil and natural gas companies handle produced water from their onshore operations and increase their reuse of produced water.

What is produced water?

When companies drill for oil and gas, water simultaneously flows to the surface, which is known as produced water. Almost all oil and gas wells generate produced water during the production process. This water may have naturally been in the same underground formation as the oil and gas, or it may have been injected into the formation as part of the hydraulic fracturing process to increase overall production. Complying with federal and state regulations to properly manage this produced water is an essential part of oil and gas companies’ operations.

What is the purpose of the letter?

AXPC’s letter with API is meant to prompt ongoing conversations between the industry and EPA as the Agency considers how to update these rules. The current regulatory framework for produced water was developed in 1976, when the industry looked very different. AXPC and API support updating the rule so it accounts for the resurgence of oil and natural gas production that has occurred in the United States over the past decade. The updated rule should be based on analysis of current geographies, industry practices and technologies.

How do oil and gas companies currently manage produced water?

Currently, companies can manage produced water by recycling or reusing it for their own production efforts, sending the water to a treatment facility where it can be processed or treated and then released into the hydrologic cycle, or safely disposing of the water in a secure underground reservoir.

The illustration of a produced water injection well demonstrates how produced water would be stored underground. Injection wells are regulated by the EPA under the authority of the Clean Water Act (CWA). However, states are allowed take on this regulatory responsibility and impose more stringent standards, as long as they meet the minimum requirements set by the EPA.

In many locations, the availability of disposal wells is limited, which has led companies to develop innovative and environmentally-friendly methods for managing produced water and conserving overall water resources.

How can EPA amend their rules to allow for more produced water to be introduced into the hydrologic cycle instead of stored?

AXPC and API are recommending that the EPA change its rules to facilitate great use of “centralized waste treatment facilities” and encourage practices that will allow companies to safely release treated produced water back into the hydrologic cycle instead of permanently storing the produced water in the earth’s subsurface and thus making it inaccessible for future use.

Current EPA regulations do not expressly cover an industry whose wastewater is primarily from recovered from the subsurface, which has a different consistency and needs for treatment and safe use. In our letter with API, we make specific suggestions about how the EPA could amend its current regulations to address this issue and ultimately incentivize development of cost-effective treatment technologies to protect and conserve water resources.

AXPC looks forward to continued dialogue with EPA as the Agency examines how protect groundwater and manage the produced water from the oil and gas industry. AXPC members understand that the proper management of wastewater and protection of the environment is essential to the health and safety of the communities in which we operate.

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