A new report from Clean Water Action found that neither state nor federal regulators have adequate data to ensure protection of underground sources of drinking water from oil and gas injection wells in Colorado. The report identified shortcomings in water protection that are not addressed in proposed changes to the state’s oversight of oil and gas development. Since 1984, the Aquifer Exemption program has been used to remove protections for nearly 300 aquifers which would otherwise be covered by the federal Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) Underground Injection Control (UIC) program.
In the report, Clean Water Action calls for reforms at both the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) and at U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to improve oversight of aquifer exemptions and oil and gas injection activity.
“Turning over aquifers to fossil fuel companies for injection should only be done with the most extreme caution - if at all. Colorado regulators do not even keep a list of which aquifers have been handed over to the industry, and EPA’s list is full of holes,” said report author, Andrew Grinberg. “Unfortunately, this is not unique -- in every state we’ve researched, we’ve found a troubling pattern of regulators flying blind, with inadequate data to ensure protection of underground sources of drinking water from oil and gas.”
The report builds on past investigations and reform efforts by Clean Water Action in California, Texas, Oklahoma and at the federal level. Thus far, each has been plagues by lax oversight, inadequate resources, and data management failures which have contributed to uncertainty around the efficacy of this little known, yet important regulatory program. In Colorado, the shortcomings include missing data about exemption locations and depths, exemption boundaries that are not based on geology, and an approval process in state regulations that fails to adequately vet applications.
“As climate change and population growth begin to stress water resources, Colorado and EPA must do more to prioritize drinking water source protection instead of facilitating an expansion of the oil and gas industry” added report contributor John Noel. “EPA needs to allocate more funding to the UIC program, a critical regulatory program that was flatlined while the industry enjoys unprecedented levels of oil and gas production and profits.”
Despite the documented problems with the UIC program, the latest federal budget proposal from the Trump Administration would cut funding by 34% from $10.5 to $6.9 million
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. We will protect clean water in the face of attacks from a polluter friendly Administration.