In Rebuke to Green Activists, EPA Praises Texas Oil and Gas Regulatory Program

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) praised the Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC) this week for its work to protect underground drinking water sources, citing the efforts made in the RRC’s Underground Injection Control (UIC) program. The commendation was part of EPA’s Fiscal Year 2016 End-of-Year evaluation of the Texas UIC program, the conclusions of which were presented by Lori Wrotenbery, Director of the Oil and Gas Division for RRC, at a Commission open meeting this week.

According to EPA, Texas continues to go above and beyond federal requirements for regulating oil and gas activities, including wastewater injection. As Wrotenbery stated in her presentation:

“First, I wanted to highlight that we’ve received from EPA our FY16 evaluation for the end-of-year Underground Injection Control program and it was a solid evaluation. EPA reviewed various performance measures and associated data on the program. For instance, EPA looked at the data on inspections conducted by oil and gas field inspectors, and also looked at data on the monitoring reports on injection operations that are submitted by oil and gas operators, and concluded after that review that the RRC continues to maintain and outstanding enforcement monitoring program.”

Not only has the state maintained an “outstanding” monitoring program, but RRC has also succeeded in ensuring high integrity among equipment used for Class II injection. As Wrotenbery mentioned, citing the EPA report:

“Also the EPA looked at the data on mechanical integrity tests of oil and gas related injection wells – so called ‘Class II’ injection wells – and concluded that the RRC’s testing and surveillance program for Class II injection wells exceeds the minimum performance measure and noted it was a strong performance.”

Along with a state program that puts in place “outstanding enforcement monitoring” and “exceeds” federal requirements, EPA’s evaluation heaped praise on the state for its efforts to address issues related to earthquakes and wastewater disposal. Wrotenbery stated in the findings presentation:

“EPA also went on to address a couple of current issues in the evaluation including the issue of induced seismicity. Just wanted to note that EPA in the evaluation highly commends the RRC for its action to address seismicity in Texas including the implementation of changes in permitting and operation requirements through amendments to RRC rules 9 and 46.” (emphasis added)

Finally, EPA’s evaluation touched on the issue of “aquifer exemptions”, where injection of wastewater into non-potable aquifers is regulated, in addition to efforts to mitigate the risk of injecting into freshwater aquifers that could be used for drinking water. In its evaluation, EPA states that “RRC is commended for its intensified efforts to address possible injection into aquifers,” which includes RRC’s years-long review of 62,500 permits that confirmed not permits were issued for injection into zones with sources of potential drinking water.

Such a glowing review of the Texas regulatory program and enforcement efforts stands in stark contrast to claims from activists and even some newspaper editorials about lax regulation of oil and natural gas development in Texas.

The Dallas Morning News penned an editorial last year accusing the RRC of “regulatory failings” related to injection wells and earthquakes. An environmental activist group in Texas has said that the current “way of enforcing oil and gas laws in Texas is broken,” mirroring a common criticism from other activist groups.

Yet as EPA’s evaluation shows, the state is not only well-equipped to regulate oil and natural gas, but it actually has an “outstanding enforcement monitoring program.” With a regulatory platform implemented by the state that effectively protects groundwater and does not overly burden oil and gas production, Texas is a model for the rest of the country.

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