Agency asking citizens to call if they observe what appears to be illegal disposal of wastes or other suspicious activity
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the creation of the “Eyes on Drilling” tipline for citizens to report non-emergency suspicious activity related to oil and natural gas development.
The agency is asking citizens to call 1-877-919-4EPA (toll free) if they observe what appears to be illegal disposal of wastes or other suspicious activity. Anyone may also send reports by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org . Citizens may provide tips anonymously if they do not want to identify themselves.
In the event of an emergency, such as a spill or release of hazardous material, including oil, to the environment, citizens are advised to call the National Response Center at 1-800-424-8802.
Public concern about the environmental impacts of oil and natural gas drilling has increased in recent months, particularly regarding development of the Marcellus Shale formation where a significant amount of activity is occurring. While EPA doesn’t grant permits for oil and gas drilling operations, there are EPA regulations that may apply to the storage of petroleum products and drilling fluids. The agency is also very concerned about the proper disposal of waste products, and protecting air and water resources.
EPA wants to get a better understanding of what people are experiencing and observing as a result of these drilling activities. The information collected may also be useful in investigating industry practices.
The agency works with state and local officials, as well as industry and public interest groups, to ensure that oil and natural gas drilling occurs in a manner that is protective of human health and the environment and complies with applicable laws. The agency is also counting on concerned citizens to report unusual or suspicious activity related to drilling operations.
EPA is asking citizens to report the location, time and date of such activity, as well as the materials, equipment and vehicles involved and any observable environmental impacts.
The Marcellus Shale geologic formation contains one of the largest mostly untapped reserves of natural gas in the United States. It underlies significant portions of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and New York, and smaller portions of Tennessee, Virginia, Maryland and Kentucky.
Interest in developing Marcellus Shale has increased because recent improvements in natural gas extraction technology and higher energy prices now make recovering the gas more profitable.
Operators produce this gas through a process called hydraulic fracturing (fracking). Fracking requires drilling a well thousands of feet below the land’s surface and pumping down the well under pressure millions of gallons of water, sand, and chemicals to fracture the shale.
The process allows the gas trapped in the formation to flow to the well bore. Approximately 20 to 30% of the fluid flows back to the surface. This “flowback” fluid consists of fracking fluid and brines, which contain dissolved minerals from the formation.
Operators are urged to recycle their flowback water for reuse in the fracking process, but some of the flowback is taken offsite for disposal. Chemicals used in the process are often stored on site. Spills can occur when utilizing these chemicals or when transporting or storing wastewater, which can result in the contamination of surface water or groundwater, which is used for many purposes including drinking water.