On February 18, Citizens Allied for Integrity and Accountability (CAIA), Wild Idaho Rising Tide (WIRT), and concerned, regional residents testified at a WIRT-recorded, remote, public hearing, held via teleconference by the Region 10 water division of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Seattle, Washington. Most citizens who participated in oral remarks denounced a Snake River Oil and Gas (SROG) permit application to convert the DJS 2-14 oil and gas extraction well into the first, Idaho, Class II oil and gas waste, underground injection control (UIC) well, in the Willow Sands field northeast of New Plymouth in Payette County [1, 2]. The Friday morning meeting also addressed SROG’s request for an exemption of the surrounding aquifer from its current designation as an underground drinking water source. The EPA has issued a draft record of decision claiming that the aquifer is so contaminated, either by the incompatible presence of hydrocarbons or by operation of dozens of nearby oil and gas wells, that it cannot practically provide recovery of water for human consumption in the future. Idaho activists continue to assert in testimony and comments that the EPA should reject both proposals, due to the myriad, well-documented dangers of oil and gas waste injection wells.
According to EPA and SROG officials, fluids injected into the DJS 2-14 well to depths between 4,900 and 5,500 feet below the surface would be separated from shallow, drinking water aquifers by claystone confining intervals. However, SROG would implement “high-pressure injection of radioactive, chemical-laden, carcinogenic, industrial waste deep underground, directly through critical drinking water aquifers,” a common industry method that has poisoned private and public waters and caused earthquakes in oil and gas producing states during the last few decades . SROG contends that it is only reinjecting naturally produced “water” into its original formations, neglecting to mention the “trade secret” toxic substances and hazardous materials used to drill wells and produce hydrocarbons at associated, local facilities. This waste injection well would serve as the dumping hole, with predictably cracked, leaking casings, for millions of gallons of contaminated and possibly distantly transported, industry byproducts.
Through a possibly ghost-written, opinion piece in the conservative, online publication, Idaho Dispatch, Richard Brown of SROG attempted to disparage and discredit the valid concerns of CAIA and jeopardized Idahoans defending themselves from SROG’s toxic practices and damaging Class II wells . Fortunately, his inaccurate depictions of potentially harmed home and business owners provided opportunities for an excellent rebuttal by CAIA president Shelley Brock, full of information from the attorneys, FracTracker Alliance, and academic and oil and gas industry expert Dr. Anthony Ingraffea, who have assisted CAIA over the last 18 months. These credible sources encourage people to fight the corporate and government corruption, water contamination, and methane emissions of this first Idaho and all injection well permits and aquifer exemptions [4, 5].
After receiving multiple requests from members of the public, during the February 18 hearing, the EPA extended the deadline for public comments on this injection well application and aquifer exemption, from February 28 to 5 pm Mountain time on Wednesday, March 30. Please send written, emailed (not mailed) messages and attachments to Evan Osborne (U.S. EPA Region 10 Ground Water and Drinking Water Section, 1200 Sixth Avenue, Suite 155, MS 19-H16, Seattle, Washington 98101) at firstname.lastname@example.org, specifically requesting another 30-day, comment period extension and inclusion of your remarks in the public record for draft permit ID-2D001-A, as described in posted WIRT action alerts and their links . Include “UIC Class II Injection Well Draft Permit & Draft Aquifer Exemption Public Comment” in the subject line and your name, address, and telephone number in your statement, or call 206-553-1747 between 1 and 4 pm on Mondays through Fridays, to offer oral comments by phone.
For relevant facts and public input suggestions, see the enclosed and previous, WIRT, talking points, listen to the 36-minute, EPA hearing, and review the well application, aquifer exemption, and associated fact sheet at the EPA website [1, 6, 7]. Although its airs only a few hours before the current comment period ends, we also invite you to listen to a conversation with Shelley Brock of CAIA, recorded for WIRT’s Climate Justice Forum radio program that weekly describes grassroots, frontline resistance to the fossil fuel causes of climate change, broadcast every Wednesday between 1:30 and 3 pm Pacific time, on-air at 90.3 FM and online, from progressive, volunteer, community station KRFP Radio Free Moscow . By March 29, we further encourage you to sign an informal, ongoing, public petition that has gathered hundreds of regional, hard-copy signatures since September 2014, demanding bans of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) well treatments and oil and gas waste injection wells in Idaho .
Please load the public record with as much credible evidence as possible, including entire news articles and government documents, to influence the EPA to deny SROG’s Class II disposal well permit and aquifer exemption requests. Unfortunately, like many federal agency personnel more pressured by industry than citizens, the EPA has mostly heard from the SROG/state of Idaho alliance about these proposals. Educating the EPA on prior wrongs inflicted by SROG may cause agency professionals to doubt the geological evidence presented by industry, and to seek other assessments. Contact CAIA or WIRT with questions and for additional information and comment guidance.
Incomplete Public Information & Comments Extension
During the last few months, the EPA has failed to publish on its website a recording, video, or transcript of the February 18 hearing or any public comments that it has obtained from citizens, organizations, and agencies, regarding the first ever, UIC Class II injection well permit application and draft aquifer exemption in Idaho. During the 2017-2018, public comment period addressing the rule change that transferred permitting authority over Class II wells from the state of Idaho to this federal agency, the EPA posted all comments as they were received. Citizens, including some who recently wrote to the EPA, asking about this commenting obstacle, have expected the same protocol for this current public process, like almost every other open and accessible, federal permit, comment period that we have encountered. But the EPA responded that it plans to post public, agency, and organizational remarks, besides the currently available, government and industry documents, after its final decision on this well application and aquifer exemption. This unethical, if not constitutionally illegal, procedure lacks transparency and fairness, and handicaps public knowledge of the full range of possible permitting outcomes. Access to all pertinent, public records is imperative for citizens attempting to understand the situation, write informed comments, and trust public agency work independent of industry influences, especially considering the Idaho precedence and prolonged environmental impacts of these EPA decisions and COVID-19 communications difficulties. For all of these reasons and in the public interest, respectfully request that the EPA promptly post all comments on this issue to its website, and extend the present comment period an additional 30 days, to sufficiently allow review and assimilation of public records on this matter.
Injection Waste & Well Problems
Although, as SROG insists, disposal of oil and gas waste fluids in injection wells simply returns hydrocarbon-containing “produced water” to the same or similar formations where it originated, this “wastewater” also bears large volumes of highly toxic drilling compounds pumped into extraction wells, which returns to the surface as “flowback.” Well casings and cement that leak and other frequent foibles of both fossil fuels and Class II wells ensure that flowback can and will eventually contaminate drinking water and threaten public health, even if, as in this case, “claystone confining intervals” separate currently utilized, shallow, drinking water aquifers from deeper, targeted, injection zones. Moreover, in July 2018, SROG predecessor Alta Mesa illegally acidized the ML Investments 1-11 well, the closest, oil and gas well to the end-of-the-road, DJS 2-14 well planned for waste disposal. State officials have casually mentioned that these operators have applied unconventional, well stimulation treatments to other unspecified wells, although concerned citizens can find none of this foregoing information on relevant state websites. Due to nearby acidization, the substrate of the Willow Sands field around the DJS 2-14 well may subsequently be more porous to seeping injection well toxins than SROG, the state of Idaho, or the EPA may disclose.
Despite the extensive monitoring, sampling, testing, and reporting that laws require but do not enforce SROG to perform, and the proposed permit limitations on injection pressures that could fracture surrounding formations, safely pumping any liquid through vulnerable aquifers and down into warmer, pressurized, subsurface horizons always presents technological challenges. Inevitably, inconsistently poured cement poorly bonds and seals the annular spaces between inner and outer casings, and the combined structures fail to prevent toxic brews and hydrocarbons, including planet-warming methane, from migrating upward, inside and along well paths of least resistance, and outward through rock fissures. The oil and gas industry has documented a high rate of casing malfunctions: Almost six percent of all hydrocarbon wells fail during initial construction; the number of compromised wells rises exponentially with their increasing ages; and eventually, all oil and gas extraction and waste disposal wells leak. Discussions and articles by Dr. Anthony Ingraffea and the independent, Pulitzer Prize-winning, media outlet ProPublica further describe the predictable, poisonous wreckage of Class II waste injection wells and their reckless endangerment imposed by their operators and regulators [5, 10-13].
If the EPA grants SROG this well permit and aquifer exemption, harmful, oil and gas extraction, and injection wells in Idaho could soon rapidly multiply from the two dozen currently drilled, plugged, shut-in, and producing wells in Payette County to hundreds of hydrocarbon wells [14, 15]. SROG has mostly monopolized securing hundreds of thousands of acres of active, oil and gas drilling leases across the Treasure Valley, including under various public roadways and the Boise, Payette, and Snake rivers. At a recent, open meeting, one of its representatives revealed that the company had developed only about five percent of its plans for fossil fuels exploitation, and accompanying air and water pollution, in the region.
SROG History of Misconduct
Over the last decade, Arkansas-based Snake River Oil and Gas (SROG), in partnership with its predecessor Alta Mesa and other bankrupt, oil and gas operators in southwest and eastern Idaho, have repeatedly disregarded government rules and regulations and angered Idahoans, with land men promising massive riches or bullying property owners into unfair leases, crews extending seismic testing and trespassing into unpermitted areas, heavy equipment damaging roads and fields, workers drilling, re-completing, and acidizing wells without permits, and companies cheating and degrading the rights and property values of home and land owners. SROG and its associates tend to act swiftly and secretly and later ask for forgiveness, if caught in its typical malfeasance. They have indulged blatant conflicts of interest and lack of transparency among state regulators, legislators, and elected officials, and provoked multiple citizen complaints, state investigations, and federal, state, and class action lawsuits over integration/forced pooling and leasing, improper production reports, and inadequate contract payments. Accordingly, Idaho citizens and their federal, EPA employees cannot trust SROG to comply with the terms of any Class II UIC well permit and related aquifer exemption.
After 85 years of commercial failure by larger oil companies, SROG’s and other drillers’ reported $160 million investment in Idaho’s nascent oil and gas development has resulted in only a half-dozen of its purported countless, permanent jobs, and has cost taxpayers more to regulate the industry than severance taxes have delivered. Against the collective will of citizens and with few benefits and compensation to them, SROG has imposed risks and harms to critical, ground and surface water resources and public health and safety, with fossil fuels infrastructure constructed and operated in residential and agricultural areas, dangerously close to homes, schools, businesses, and private and public water systems, rivers, and lands. In response, the sustained efforts of grassroots, volunteer, advocacy groups like CAIA, WIRT, and allies have sought to protect fellow citizens of all political ideologies and their relatively clear air, clean water, safe property, and secure civil rights from SROG and polluting industries operating irresponsibly in local communities.
Industry Exemptions & Oversight
The oil and gas industry enjoys exemptions from major environmental laws that almost all other businesses must honor, including the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), governing disposal of hazardous and carcinogenic wastes. Thus, the EPA and other regulatory agencies will not sufficiently monitor the disposal methods, the million-of-gallons, maximum volume, or the chemical compositions and pressures of fluids that SROG pumps into the DJS 2-14 and likely other impending, Class II waste wells in Idaho, despite EPA permit restrictions and assurances. Regardless of any regulations established to minimize these risks, federal and state agencies rely on SROG and its cohorts and contractors to self-report. Fulfillment of requirements concerning injection well casings, structural integrity, and fluid amounts and pressures totally depend on the historically questionable honesty and compliance of SROG and other oil and gas operators, with little or absent supervision.
Such lax industry oversight may have induced the ban on Class II injection wells instituted by the state of Idaho in 1985. But as out-of-state corporations, wealthy owners of large acreages, and elected politicians started to personally invest and financially benefit from meager oil and gas extraction in Idaho, state regulators strategized ways to bypass the ban. During a December 2017, Idaho Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (IOGCC) meeting and presentation on injection wells, they concluded that transferring state authority over the Class II well program to the EPA would effectively eliminate the ban and hasten oil and gas extraction, an unsurprising maneuver in a conservative state that condemns federal control, but justifies destructive development as lucrative.
WIRT wonders if SROG is the source of pollution of the aquifer now deemed unsuitable by the EPA for drinking water. For a decade, we have suspected that the oil and gas industry’s long-term scheme for ground, surface, private, and public water sources is to purposely and quickly pollute water supplies, to essentially turn community sinks into its private toilets, without recourse. Such an evil agenda seems unimaginable unless viewed through the lens of hasty investor and miner greed. It is obvious in SROG’s two Fallon wells’ positions across and under the Payette River, with precariously close proximity to the city of Fruitland, river water intake plant. Any aquifer exemption or permit granted for an oil and gas or Class II injection well, which expedites such nefarious, if only incidental, degradation of priceless water resources, extends imminent culpability beyond fossil fuels companies like SROG, to regulators such as the IOGCC and EPA.
As impacted Idaho residents struggle to protect their communities from these unnecessary ventures, how will they pay for the costly expense of baseline and ongoing, hydrocarbon testing of their water by certified, independent, third parties, to prove water contamination and other damages inflicted by oil and gas operations, and to receive compensation through insurance or litigation? Can SROG’s pollution liability insurance sufficiently cover and remedy confirmed, aquifer, and drinking water supply pollution that can spread for many miles? For instance, just a few gallons of leaked diesel fuel can transform millions of gallons of pristine water into unsafe and undrinkable fluids. Who will remediate water-borne carcinogens like benzene and toluene seeping from hydrocarbon and Class II wells, when Idaho Department of Environmental Quality wastewater reports show levels of these toxins thousands of units over acceptable limits? Has the EPA considered any of these probable consequences of the proposed DJS 2-14 injection well permit and Willow Sands aquifer exemption, in its deliberations of future liability to the people of Idaho and the Columbia River Basin?
Thanks for your resistance to fossil fuels in Idaho and beyond!
 EPA Hearing on First Idaho Oil and Gas Waste Injection Well 2-18-22, February 24, 2022 Wild Idaho Rising Tide
 EPA Holds Hearing on Local Injection Well Application, March 1, 2022 Argus Observer
 Op-Ed: Fake News from CAIA, February 21, 2022 Idaho Dispatch
 Op-Ed: Real News from CAIA, March 11, 2022 Idaho Dispatch
 Lethal Gas/Oil Wells: Anthony Ingraffea at TEDxAlbany 2013, December 12, 2013 TEDx Talks
 Oppose First Idaho Oil and Gas Waste Injection Well! February 17, 2022 Wild Idaho Rising Tide
 Public Notice: Proposed Aquifer Exemption and UIC Class II Permit for Willow Gas Field in Idaho, January 14, 2022 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
 Petition to Ban Hydraulic Fracturing and Waste Injection Wells in Idaho, September 29, 2014 Wild Idaho Rising Tide
 Injection Wells: The Poison Beneath Us, June 21, 2012 ProPublica
 An Unseen Leak, Then Boom, June 21, 2012 ProPublica
 The Trillion-Gallon Loophole: Lax Rules for Drillers that Inject Pollutants into the Earth, September 20, 2012 ProPublica
 Poisoning the Well: How the Feds Let Industry Pollute the Nation’s Underground Water Supply, December 11, 2012 ProPublica
 Well Files, Idaho Oil and Gas Conservation Commission
 Southwest Idaho Oil and Gas Activity Map, Idaho Oil and Gas Conservation Commission