Urgent! Comment by 1/11 Against Idaho Oil & Gas Waste Injection Wells


On July 22, 1985, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved and the state of Idaho has since maintained primary, state regulation and enforcement authority (primacy) over all five classes of injection wells in Idaho, under the Safe Drinking Water Act, section 1422, through the Idaho Department of Water Resources (IDWR) Underground Injection Control (UIC) program.  Because 1985 Idaho regulations prohibited Class II, oil and gas wastewater injection wells in the state, this ban was codified in those EPA rules.  In 2013, the Idaho Legislature passed laws allowing these wells.  But during 2017 Idaho legislative hearings on oil and gas bills and rules, Idaho Governor Otter became aware that the lack of state government oversight of Class II injection wells was delaying oil and gas development in the Treasure Valley.  IDWR has not issued any Class II well permits, because the EPA has not approved the state’s proposed changes to its Class II, UIC program.  On August 25, 2017, the EPA received a letter from IDWR, formally requesting transfer of its responsibility for managing Class II, oil and gas wastewater injection wells in Idaho to the EPA.  According to the EPA’s November 2017, Federal Register notice of this proposed rule revision, state-administered, Class II injection wells remain illegal in Idaho, under federal law [1-3].

Idaho agency efforts to uncharacteristically and aggressively transfer authority over Class II wells in our fifth most seismically active state to the EPA, headed by oil and gas industry friend and former Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt, seem like thinly veiled attempts to again hastily accommodate corporate profits at the expense of Idahoans’ public and environmental health.  Instead of conscientiously updating Idaho’s injection control program, the state is calling for this transfer of responsibility to the EPA, to facilitate cheaper, underground disposal of oil and gas drilling byproducts than in evaporation ponds near the Boise Airport, as soon as possible.  IDWR is thus side-stepping the existing, three-decade ban of Class II injection wells, risking and polluting Idaho groundwater and seismic stability, and circumventing both impacted, Idaho citizen review of Class II injection well regulations and lawsuits against the state for any damages resulting from these wells [4].  As suggested by state agency presentations on Class II wells, given to the Idaho Oil and Gas Conservation Commission on December 7, 2017, the Texas company currently producing oil and gas in Idaho’s Treasure Valley, Alta Mesa, may request Safe Drinking Water Act exemptions of precious, water aquifers for its injection well program, and use already drilled, shut-in, (and defective?), hydrocarbon wells in Payette County, such as the DJS 2-14 well [5].

“Injection wells – which involve the high-pressure, underground dumping of millions of gallons of frack wastewater, which contains toxins, carcinogens, and other chemicals – cause earthquakes, can contaminate drinking water, and bring other environmental and public health impacts” [6].  In Oklahoma, insurance policies neither covered nor did anything to assist residents and businesses suffering huge losses from earthquakes, because the jolts were created by the oil and gas industry injecting massive quantities of wastewater and ‘produced’ water, laced with heavy salts, toxic chemicals, and radioactivity, directly into their aquifer, drinking water sources.  “In a normal year – that is, in almost any before 2009 – the state only saw one or two quakes.  It now experiences one to two quakes per day.  In 2015, it endured 857 earthquakes with a magnitude of 3.0 or higher, more than struck the rest of the lower 48 states combined” [7].  The EPA, Pulitzer Prize-winning journal ProPublica, popular videos, and others have all documented the inherent risks of Class II injection wells [8, 9].

Based on decades of observations and interactions with Idaho agencies and natural resource issues, Wild Idaho Rising Tide (WIRT) activists do not necessarily agree that Idaho regulations would protect clean air, water, and lands, potentially degraded by Class II, oil and gas waste injection wells, better than federal agencies like the EPA [10].  But together, we, the people of Idaho, should not condone any local, state, or federal government or private company overturning the ongoing ban on Class II injection wells in Idaho, and thus let corporate forces once again elevate the rights of fossil fuel companies over the communities they violate with innumerable, significant harms.  WIRT suspects that any agency permitting Class II, waste injection wells could open the toxic floodgates for oil and gas well stimulation treatments like hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in Idaho, and its profuse use and pollution of our relatively pristine water.  In the high-desert environment of the rapidly growing, Treasure Valley population, where communities depend on clean water-based agriculture and recreation for their economic sustenance, we cannot afford to risk or waste underground water supplies also challenged by a warming, drying climate.

KEEP THE BAN ON EARTHQUAKE-INDUCING, WATER-POLLUTING, CLASS II, OIL & GAS WASTE INJECTION WELLS IN IDAHO!

Displaying enthusiastic and concerned interest in the management of Class II, underground injection wells in our state, dozens of Idaho citizens attended and/or testified at the only available, public hearing on this issue, conducted by the EPA between 2 and 5 pm on Monday, January 8, at the Banner Bank Building, 950 West Bannock Street in Boise, Idaho.  Organizations working on campaigns to curb the fossil fuel sources of pollution and climate change – 350, Citizens Allied for Integrity and Accountability, Idaho Conservation League, Idaho Organization of Resource Councils, WIRT, and many others – are encouraging you, your family and friends, and thousands of Idahoans to write to the EPA by Thursday, January 11, insisting that the federal agency deny this hasty transfer of responsibility for Class II injection wells from the state of Idaho to the EPA.  WIRT has been collecting hundreds of informal signatures on a petition for five years, calling for an Idaho ban of both fracking and waste injection wells, which we will send to the local and regional EPA offices in Boise and Seattle.  For further information and action on this situation, please consider our preceding, shared ideas and the following, enclosed and linked, talking points and comment instructions [11, 12].

* The ban on Class II injection wells should stand, or be subject to public review that considers initial and emerging reasons for its continued implementation.

* Class II injection wells have led to localized earthquakes in several, other states, and Idaho is already earthquake-prone.

* Permitting Class II injection wells in Idaho would likely restrict the ability of citizens to obtain earthquake insurance anywhere in the state.

* Living and/or working near a Class II injection well could prove hazardous to my property and the health and safety of my family, community, and self.

* The EPA has documented the unacceptable risks of Class II injection wells leaking contaminants nearby.

* Water aquifers are precious resources for drinking water and agriculture, and should not be made vulnerable to contamination by Class II injection wells, so the oil and gas industry can more cheaply and riskily dispose its waste.

* The EPA should provide more information to the public on how it would manage Class II injection wells, administer an associated program, make decisions regarding their use, and mitigate subsequent earthquake and groundwater damages in Idaho, prior to any changes in regulatory authority.

* Class II injection well provisions should include industry restitution for harms resulting from the wells, so Idaho taxpayers do not ultimately pay for damage cleanup that is likely impossible for contaminated aquifers.

* Class II injection well regulations in Idaho should require the companies benefitting from these wells, in this case, Alta Mesa, to fund the Class II injection well program, and thus offset the usual externalization to citizens of oil and gas production costs.

To send your comments before the Thursday, January 11, deadline:

1) Go to https://www.regulations.gov/.

2) Enter docket identification code EPA-HQ-OW-2017-0584 into the search window.

3) Click the Comment Now! button in the lower right corner of the page.

4) Type or copy and paste your written comments into the window provided, addressing proposed revisions to 40 CFR Part 147, Subpart N, as described in Docket EPA-HQ-OW-2017-0584.

Beyond commenting online, you can also contact Evan Osborne at the Seattle office of the EPA, with your further questions and concerns about this transfer of authority over Class II, oil and gas waste injection wells, or email and mail your comments postmarked by January 11: Evan Osborne, osborne.evan@epa.gov, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 10, 1200 Sixth Avenue, OCE-101, Seattle, WA 98101.  Do not miss this opportunity to help protect Idaho communities and our water, air, and lands from the impacts of pollution and earthquakes induced by these wells and already suffered by people around the country close to such oil and gas waste disposal.  Without public response and resistance, the state with quickly transfer its Class II injection control program to the EPA, and accelerate approval of these dangerous wells.

[1] State of Idaho Voluntary Transfer of Primacy of the Class II Underground Injection Control Program to the Environmental Protection Agency, November 27, 2017 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

[2] Idaho Asks Federal Agency to Run Oil Injection Well Program, November 28, 2017 Associated Press/Spokesman-Review

[3] EPA to Take Lead on Injection Wells, December 6, 2017 Independent-Enterprise

[4] Folks, This is an Urgent Call to Action: Injection Wells in Idaho, January 2, 2018 Citizens Allied for Integrity and Accountability

[5] Class 2 Injection Presentation, December 7, 2017 Idaho Oil and Gas Conservation Commission

[6] Press Release: Federal Court Sanctions Lawyers for Defending Community’s Right to Say “No” to Frack Wastewater Injection Wells, January 5, 2018 Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund

[7] Could Scott Pruitt Have Fixed Oklahoma’s Earthquake Epidemic? January 18, 2017 The Atlantic

[8] Injection Wells: The Poison Beneath Us, June 21, 2012 ProPublica

[9] Oklahoma Had Over 900 Earthquakes Last Year Because Hydraulic Fracturing “Fracking”! January 4, 2016 MSM News

[10] Important Call to Action for Idahoans! December 3, 2017 Shelley Brock

[11] This Is Important…CAIA Has Put Together Some Tips…, January 3, 2018 Jane Rohling

[12] Class II Injection Wells – EPA Comments, January 2018 Condensed Notes, January 7, 2018 Jane Rohling

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