Report: Enhanced oil recovery threatens drinking water

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Report: Enhanced oil recovery threatens drinking water.

Regulators lack the resources and data to oversee an estimated 60% of U.S. oil production.

Washington, D.C. - According to a study released today by Clean Water Action, federal and state agencies tasked with monitoring the oil industry do not have the data, resources and regulations needed to adequately protect water from risks associated with enhanced oil recovery (EOR) practices, which account for an estimated 60% of crude oil production.

“Despite accounting for the majority of U.S. oil production, and presenting significant threats to drinking water sources, most people have never heard of enhanced oil recovery,” said Andrew Grinberg, Clean Water Action’s National Campaigns Special Projects Manager. “Regulators and the public have had little information on what oil companies are doing, so despite the risks, EOR has remained out of sight and out of mind.”

The Underground Injection Control (UIC) program of the Safe Drinking Water Act gives EPA the authority to regulate EOR wells, of which there are more than 145,000 nationwide, yet in most oil and gas states, state agencies oversee injection wells. The Trump Administration has proposed cutting federal UIC funding to states for the regulation of injection activities by more than 30%, from $10.5 million to $7.3 million.

The study, “The Environmental Risks and Oversight of Enhanced Oil Recovery in the United States” concluded that:

  • Research on the environmental impacts of EOR is outdated by several decades and significant data gaps exist that limit regulators’ and the public’s understanding of its impacts.
  • Oil companies are not required to disclose chemicals used for injection, and rarely are required to monitor groundwater for contamination.
  • Inspections of EOR projects do not occur frequently enough due to budget and staffing constraints at both the state and federal levels.

“We found that it is very difficult for state and federal agencies to advocate for stricter oversight without evidence of violations or demonstrated cases of drinking water contamination,” noted Regina Rossmann, one of the study authors. “But how can oversight agencies detect such evidence with insufficient budget and staff resources in the first place?”

Rossmann and the other authors of the study, Matthew Geraci, Courtney Romolt, and Syed Jehangeer Ali, are masters students at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

“This report clearly lays out the need to increase funding and protections for our water and significantly improve oversight of EOR activities,” said Grinberg. “Instead, the Trump Administration has proposed slashing federal funding to states for oversight of EOR.” 

The full report is available for download here:

Michael Kelly