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GAO Criticizes EPA’s Injection Well Oversight

Oil drillingThe EPA is inconsistent in its handling of safety inspections, maintains poor records and is not adjusting its guidelines to address emerging underground risks associated with injection wells, according to a report by the US Government Accountability Office.

Currently 39 states have the EPA’s approval to manage their own Underground Injection Control class II programs, and EPA regions are responsible for the remaining states.

Eight states were reviewed for the report. The GAO found that all eight states had water contamination safeguards in place, but there were no specific safeguards to address seismic activity or surface outbreaks of fluids as the result of drilling.

Although the EPA said its UIC Technical Workgroup has the job of reviewing induced seismic activity associated with injection wells and possible safeguards, it has no plans to review other emerging risks, such as high pressure in formations.

The report also cited the following:

  1. The EPA does not consistently conduct annual on-site state program evaluations as directed by guidance. Furthermore, it has not evaluated its guidance — which dates back to the 1980s — to determine which activities are essential for effective oversight.
  2. The EPA has failed to approve and incorporate state program requirements and changes into federal regulations through a rulemaking, and therefore may not be able to enforce all state program requirements. Although the EPA stated this is a  burdensome and time-consuming process, it has not taken steps to find a more efficient one.

In a letter of response, the EPA said it generally agreed with the GAO’s findings, conclusions and recommendations, adding that it appreciated recognition of the EPA’s resource limitations.

In recent years, the connections between drilling, water contamination, water use and earthquakes has come under increased scrutiny.

Photo Credit: Oil drilling via Shutterstock

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