Photo by shadbushcollective via flickr
Injection wells endanger workers, residents, and remove trillions of gallons of water from the planet’s water cycle. Now made famous by the hydraulic fracturing process used to release natural gas, the wastewater that returns to the surface is being injected back into the ground for storage at over 150,000 sites across the nation.
The fracking fluid deposited in these Class 2 wells are less regulated than any waste produced by refineries. Rather than being inspected on a regular basis by officials, the fracking companies are left to their own devices and are expected to report any instances of environmental contamination or hazardous working conditions. Thanks to ProPublica’s investigative reporting, we now know that deregulation of this practice has led to dangerous and dishonest activities: “More than 1,000 times in the three-year period examined, operators pumped waste into Class 2 wells at pressure levels they knew could fracture rock and lead to leaks. In at least 140 cases, companies injected waste illegally or without a permit. In several instances, records show, operators did not meet requirements to identify old or abandoned wells near injection sites until waste flooded back up to the surface, or found ways to cheat on tests meant to make sure wells aren’t leaking.”
This weak regulatory standard was set back in the 1970s and continued through the G. W. Bush presidency thanks to Vice President Dick Cheney who helped to reduce the efficacy of the Clean Air and Water Act. When left unchecked, these injection wells can lead to unintended fissures in the rock, leaking noxious chemicals into aquifers. And companies are able to lie about the components of their fracking wastewater, at times describing the fluid as simply saltwater.
Ultimately, the efforts to label these gas wells as Class 2 is a move by the industry to cut costs. Regulation takes time, and time is money. Clearly record profits are not enough. They need more. And when all else fails, the industry can always rely on decreasing our dependency on foreign oil as a justification for their destruction of our land and water supply. We must protect ourselves from foreign economic interests so that we become dependent upon domestic environmental terrorists.
It is about time that Americans start questioning the wisdom of supporting an industry whose byproduct is so toxic that it must be stored thousands of feet under the ground. We must question our support for an industry that is so dishonest that it willingly lies to the federal government about the chemical composition of its most important tool. And we must also demand greater responsibility and integrity from our leaders – those we elected to protect our health and safety, but instead enable the natural gas industry to circumvent what little regulations that exist.