Issues

Report: EPA Failing to Prevent Oil, Gas from Contaminating Drinking Water

drinking water
AP

The Environmental Protection Agency is not adequately protecting sources of drinking water from oil and gas pollution, raising concerns about damaging health effects, according to a federal report.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office pointed specifically to failed EPA oversight in California, the nation’s third-largest oil-producing state, where oil companies were dumping wastewater into aquifers intended for drinking water.

The report released in February noted that federal and state officials across the U.S. have not properly enforced the Safe Drinking Water Act by failing to conduct regular on-sight inspections, collect necessary paperwork, and keep a complete database of oilfield operations.

"The takeaway overall is that the EPA doesn't collect and states don't provide the information for the EPA to exercise the oversight that's its job," Kassie Siegel, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity, told the Associated Press on Wednesday. "It shows a massive failure to protect our drinking water."

Federal officials said negligent oversight in California, including poor record keeping on paper forms, lack of modern data systems, and obsolete or deficient regulations, has led to repeated violations of safe drinking water requirements.

California officials, for example, imposed more than $5 million in fines against oil companies, but still have yet to collect the cash, the report said.

In October 2015, state officials shut down 23 oil wells that were injecting wastewater into underground sources of drinking water protected under federal law.

GAO officials recommended that the EPA require states to collect uniform data on oilfield inspections, including the type of inspection, the data of inspections, and the results of inspection so that the federal government can efficiently track enforcement of clean water protections. They also recommended that the EPA clarify the data that should be reported on paperwork so that officials can compare measurements across states.

The EPA said in a statement Wednesday that it "generally agreed" with the report and would move to "improve data collection and oversight," according to the Associated Press.