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Oil and gas production puts water across the country at risk. But a new report from Clean Water Action and Clean Water Fund outlines steps the Biden Administration and states can take to increase water quality protection. The “Roadmap for Reform” (the Roadmap) charts a path for improved implementation of the two primary federal water laws - the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) and Clean Water Act -- in order to safeguard sources of drinking water and the nation’s water resources from oil and gas production activities.

“Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act programs are essential to protecting the water resources most at risk in a climate changing world. The Biden Administration and states with enforcement authority must improve the programs meant to protect water quality from oil and gas activities while we transition away from fossil fuels,” said Andrew Grinberg, the report’s author.

Clean Water’s research and advocacy, and the work of federal agencies and academics, have revealed that oil and gas companies have long relied on loopholes and exemptions that put water at risk, in order to produce fossil fuels. New leadership at EPA presents an opportunity to change course and take proactive steps to rein in polluting oil and gas activities like wastewater (also known as produced water) disposal, enhanced recovery, and hydraulic fracturing.

“For decades, the fossil fuel industry has exploited loopholes in the Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water Acts, allowing these companies to profit at the expense of our water and communities,” Grinberg continued.

The Roadmap builds on more than a decade of research that has included detailed examinations of EPA’s and several states’ programs, as well as direct engagement in regulatory, enforcement and legislative reforms. It outlines improvements that must be made to implementation of the two laws, including closing regulatory loopholes which allow discharge of oil and gas wastewater into rivers and streams, and to modernizing the criteria that states and EPA use to permanently exempt aquifers from federal protection as a source of drinking water.

Safe Drinking Water Act Underground Injection Control (UIC) program

The federal Class II Underground Injection Control Program (UIC) program has failed to keep up with changes in the oil and gas industry over the four decades since its inception. Clean Water calls for updating the regulation of Class II injection, including the aquifer exemption program; increasing funding for EPA’s management of the program; improving oversight of state Class II programs; and establishing new protections for carbon dioxide enhanced oil recovery (CO2-EOR).

Clean Water Act

Weak regulations in the effluent limitation guidelines (ELG) program amount to loopholes in the Clean Water Act that enable oil and gas producers to discharge pollutants directly and indirectly into rivers, lakes and streams, undermining the goals of the Clean Water Act. Clean Water calls for updating the ELGs for produced water discharges and for discharges to commercial waste treatment facilities. EPA must also do more to understand the characteristics and risks of produced water discharge and work to close the loopholes that allow for polluting discharges, such as those in the arid west and from low producing wells.

“We have allowed the fossil fuel industry to put our water at risk for too long. We hope the Biden Administration uses this roadmap as a guide to safeguard drinking water sources from oil and gas production, Grinberg concluded. “We also call on Congress to act swiftly to close the legislative loopholes that have prioritized oil and gas development over water protection for decades.”'

Read the report here


Since our founding during the campaign to pass the landmark Clean Water Act in 1972, Clean Water Action has worked to win strong health and environmental protections by bringing issue expertise, solution-oriented thinking and people power to the table.