A 1988 decision to exempt oil and gas producers from federal hazardous waste regulations has helped drive the shale gas boom in the United States, but could be exposing local residents to a host of carcinogens and other pollutants, according to an InsideClimate News investigation.
Producers lobbied successfully for the exemption, despite an Environmental Protection Agency estimate that 10-70% of oil and gas waste could be considered hazardous. Without a formal designation, chemicals in the waste can evaporate directly into the atmosphere, and “a recent EPA review of oil and gas waste regulations in 27 states, including Texas, Pennsylvania, and Colorado, found that none had rules requiring regular air monitoring at commercial solid waste facilities,” ICN reports.
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EPA estimated it would cost the industry an extra $700 million to $4.5 billion to treat its waste as hazardous, and a former industry lawyer said that cost could inhibit shale gas development. “What makes economic sense now to develop these new [shale] plays might not make economic sense once this new expense is factored in,” Bob Keffer told ICN. “So removing the exemption could have a chilling effect on future development.”