World-renowned water expert calls oil and gas contamination "scary"

Dr. Peter Gleick is a MacArthur "genius" Fellow, an Academician of the International Water Academy, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences who holds a Ph.D. in Energy and Resources. In other words, he's an expert.

His latest blog post discusses the risks posed to our environment and human health by oil and gas production. In particular, he discusses the vast amounts of water used and contaminated by the hydraulic fracturing process. This water becomes industrial waste. Dr. Gleick writes that 77 billion barrels of this so-called "produced water" were generated worldwide in 2000 by oil and gas operations, and since then the annual volume has increased.

Most alarming to me is Dr. Gleick's report that produced water from a natural gas well is often ten times more toxic than produced water from an oil well. He also states that oil or natural gas production will create 20 to 50 times as much produced water--industrial waste--as it will oil or gas.

Dr. Gleick points to the lack of appropriate regulation to protect our environment and human health. Produced water, like other oil and gas waste, is exempt from a federal law called the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (or RCRA), which is the principal federal law designed to ensure safe management of hazardous waste and prevent new toxic waste sites. In the 1980s, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sampled produced water at field sites and found pollutants at levels that greatly exceeded EPA standards. Congress is long overdue in closing the RCRA loophole for oil and gas operations. Industry is constantly innovating new ways to more safely manage and minimize hazardous oil and gas waste, such as pitless drilling, water recycling, and more. It is time to close the RCRA loophole.