Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), ranking member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, issued a letter to their Republican counterparts requesting a joint hearing on the issue of seismic activity induced by the underground injection of wastewater from hydraulic fracturing activities. In the letter dated December 18, 2013, the members cite the increased seismic activity in previously seismically inactive locations, the critical need for additional data, and the potential regulatory gaps in current law that put people and property at risk from man-made earthquakes.
According to the ranking members, “[t]he tremendous boom in U.S. oil and natural gas production over the past several years has been the result of the expanded use of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, techniques that generate large quantities of wastewater, which is often disposed of through underground injection,” and reference a recent report by the National Research Council that linked seismic events to wastewater injection in Arkansas, New Mexico, Ohio, Texas, and other locations. The members also point to a joint October study from the U.S. Geological Survey and Oklahoma Geological Survey that suggested tremors in the state “may” be linked to hydraulic fracturing.
In the letter, the members argue that it is not clear that current requirements under the Safe Drinking Water Act Underground Injection Control (UIC) program are adequate to address the risk posed by induced seismicity to critical surface infrastructure such as nuclear power plants and dams, not to mention homes and businesses in the vicinity of injection wells.
It must be noted that the causal connection between hydraulic fracturing and earthquakes continues to be unresolved – studies and experts have produced research and opinion on both sides of the issue. Oklahoma state geologist G. Randy Keller called the claims “a rush to judgment,” while Interior Department Deputy Secretary David Hayes said his teams have found “no evidence to suggest that hydraulic fracturing itself” is the cause of earthquakes.
This post was written by Barclay Nicholson (email@example.com or 713.651.3662) from Norton Rose Fulbright’s Energy Practice Group.