Drinking Water: Safeguards Are Not Preventing Contamination From Injected Oil and Gas Wastes

RCED-89-97 Published: Jul 05, 1989. Publicly Released: Aug 04, 1989.
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Underground Injection Control (UIC) Program, focusing on: (1) whether evidence exists of drinking water contamination from injection wells used in oil and gas production, known as Class II wells, and if so, the causes and actions taken to prevent similar occurrences; and (2) the degree to which states have implemented program safeguards to protect against drinking water contamination.

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Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Environmental Protection Agency In order to better safeguard drinking water supplies from contamination from Class II wells, the Administrator, EPA, should require that UIC program regulations or guidance be established for state- and EPA-administered programs to make existing wells subject to area-of-review requirements as are new wells.
Closed – Implemented
EPA had developed a proposed rulemaking to make existing wells subject to area-of-review requirements, but because of other priorities, the proposed rulemaking was never completed. As of September 1995, EPA said that it would consider issuing guidance coupled with technical assistance documents as an alternative to regulations, depending on the availability of resources.
Environmental Protection Agency The Administrator, EPA, should establish a priority system to ensure that the regulatory agencies first review those area reviews containing improperly plugged wells that pose the greatest environmental risks.
Closed – Implemented
EPA plans no action on this recommendation because it does not think this is an area appropriate for regulation. According to EPA officials, some states are targeting wells that pose the greatest environmental risks while other states do not have the information to do so.
Environmental Protection Agency To help ensure that Class II wells are structurally sound and not injecting into areas of unplugged wells, the Administrator, EPA, should require state program regulatory agencies to institute the internal controls necessary to ensure that Class II permits are issued only if documentation exists that area-of-review information was checked and the pressure test portion of mechanical integrity tests was conducted.
Closed – Implemented
EPA has issued final guidance to its regions and primary states to adopt the minimum data elements required for each well. Data elements include area-of-review information and the pressure test data.

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