We have been discussing the shale gas issue in class and I decided to look into it. I found that the oil and gas industry enjoys sweeping exemptions from provisions in the major federal environmental statutes intended to protect human health and the environment.This lack of regulatory oversight can be traced to many illnesses and even deaths for people and wildlife across the country. There are a variety of chemicals used during the many phases of oil and gas development. These chemicals also produce varying types of waste throughout these processes. Because of the exemptions and exclusions, toxic chemicals and hazardous wastes are permeating the soil, water sources and the air threatening human health to an alarming extent.
I contemplated why the EPA would allow such exemptions if the ramifications where so severe. While listening to NPR this week, the topic again came up on the radio. The program went over EPA loopholes that allow oil water to flow over Indian land. In the 1970’s, when the Environmental Protection Agency was banning oil companies from dumping their waste water, ranchers, especially in Wyoming, made a fuss. They argued that their livestock needs water, even dirty water. So the EPA made an exception, a loophole, for the arid West. If oil companies demonstrate that ranchers or wildlife use the water, the companies can release it. Off the reservation, Western states get to decide what oil companies must do with waste water; over time, states’ rules have become stricter than the EPA’s. Some states have all but outlawed dumping. But on the Wind River Reservation, the EPA controls whether companies can release waste water on a case-by-case basis.
Here, the argument that without the waste water, designated areas in Wyoming would be bone dry most of the year gives me pause. How do we balance the financial benefits of allowing the flow of toxic water on surface land with the possible ramifications to the humans who are often affected by this overflow?