RRC Completes Review of Aquifer Exemption Program
December 5, 2017
AUSTIN – The Railroad Commission of Texas has been commended in a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency evaluation for its work protecting underground sources of drinking water. The recognition comes in EPA’s Fiscal Year 2016 End-of-Year evaluation of the RRC‘s Underground Injection Control program.
The RRC’s UIC program protects the state’s drinking water through enforcement of EPA-approved rules on permitting, constructing and testing underground injection wells. Among the highlights of the EPA’s evaluation, the RRC is recognized for “more than adequate inspection and monitoring” of Class II injection wells (wells used in oil and gas activities) in Texas.
The evaluation also shows the RRC maintains “an outstanding enforcement monitoring program” for these wells. The evaluation also concludes the RRC’s testing and surveillance program for Class II injection wells “exceeds the minimum performance measure.”
The EPA evaluation also “highly commends the RRC for its actions to address” seismicity in Texas, “including implementation of changes in permitting and operation requirements” through amendments to RRC rules 9 and 46.
On seismicity, the evaluation concludes, “These regulatory changes solidify RRC authority regarding seismicity related to Class II disposal, include new reporting and operational requirements for operators, and establish new permit application information to address seismic risk.”
In 1982, the EPA gave the RRC primary authority (primacy) over the state’s Class II UIC program. The EPA’s 2016 evaluation states the “RRC is commended for its intensified efforts to address possible injection into aquifers.”
The EPA also recommended “continued high prioritization of this effort to identify fields that may produce hydrocarbons from aquifers.” Exempt aquifers include oil and gas reservoirs, which contain water that is not used, nor will potentially be used for drinking water.
As a part of the RRC’s intensified efforts, the agency conducted a comprehensive review of the RRC’s permitting program for underground injection activities.
The Commission reviewed 62,500 permits for underground injection and confirmed no permits were issued for injection into zones determined to be sources of drinking water or potential sources of drinking water.
Additionally, the Commission has compiled more detailed information on hydrocarbon productive zones that are exempted aquifers, and an internally searchable database to support future regulatory actions. The Commission has strengthened procedures to ensure future permitting activities are consistent with aquifer exemption requirements.
This project has confirmed that the Commission’s UIC program provides substantial and effective groundwater protection in compliance with Section 1425 of the Safe Drinking Water Act and the 1982 primacy agreement between the Commission and EPA.