Fracking Environmental Laws and Regulations
It is hard to argue with the fact that environment is under a serious threat. Every single sphere of human activity contributes much to pollution, distortion, and overall damage of the environment. First of all, it is important to pay attention to the industrial segment as it presupposes use of hazardous materials, equipment, and disposal of substantial amount of pollutant wastes. One of the central concerns nowadays is shale gas industry as it implies numerous violations of environmental welfare. There is a wide variety of reasons to regard the industry in a particular way, but one of them is a fracking method of mining, which actually causes the majority of harms. Needless to say, the protection of the environment cannot be disregarded by the government so that it enacts multiple laws and regulations concerning the protection of the environment. Regarding that, the following study focuses on the discussion and analysis of the environmental laws and regulations that are directly related to fracking mining.
To be more specific, the following study defines the term of fracking initially. Then, it gives an account to the related environmental laws and acts. As a consequence, the paper analyses and evaluates the laws in order to make particular recommendations concerning filling potential gaps for the further improvement of the laws’ effectiveness. The paper addresses a context, which is larger than an issue of fracking. It touches upon the shale gas industry as whole as well as the relations between corporate environmental awareness and demands of the national economy. In general, the paper reveals the main points of legislative field of environmental regulations. As long as the thesis, layout, and the key terms of the study have been outlined, it is necessary to proceed on the following section for defining the term of fracking.
Definition of Fracking
For starters, it is appropriate to be explicit about what is meant by fracking. In fact, it is a method of mining, which utilizes cracks in soil for creation injections and further mining of shale gas. The process consists of several stages, which are the following. First of all, isolating of vertical borne of the mining area has to be made. Then, it is necessary to pump out all unnecessary fluids and substances. That leads to accessing stage, during which a contact with shale gas is made. Eventually, construction stage takes places. It presupposes setting of all equipment and facilities. All stages usually last for approximately 500 days in total so that it is quite long time for harming the environment (Harrison & Hester, 2015). Besides that, fracking mining itself is a dangerous activity as well as any other type of mining shale gas so that it requires a proper reaction.
First of all, it should be a careful consideration of environmental perspective. That includes water contamination, pollution of soils, water, and noise production as well as electromagnetic wave emissions. Therefore, fracking mining has to comply with a wide range of laws and regulations, which are designed for prevention the environment damaging. This is a pivotal complex of laws since they are only one official regulative instrument in terms of environmental protection. Regarding the definition and the essence of fracking, it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the fact that numerous aspects of environmental welfare under a serious threat exposed by that and related industries. The government takes the responsibility for securing the environment on local, state, and federal basis. Thus, the laws have to be given and account and discussed in order to identify their potential gaps and suggest approximate solutions for their further improvement. That is why the paper moves on the next section.
Laws and Regulations
Clean Water Act
The first related law is Clean Water Act. The regulation has been issued in 1974 as a result of Federal Water Pollution Control Act, which was aimed at elimination of any water pollution within the territory of the United States. The main mechanism of the law is based on the objective of creation permitting process for discharging methods. The law is particularly referred to the cases of discharging materials that contain dumping pollutants. The law is related not only to underground injections but to any type of water including lakes, ponds, creeks, and wetlands. In 2005, Energy Policy Act expanded specific exemptions on oil and gas industries or any related activities, which can be isolated from sources of potential pollution of water. It is important to note that it can be not only certain pollutant materials but equipment or mechanisms, which requires use of these materials. Still, the federal law suggests that gas and oil mining stations are allowed to utilize storm water runoffs (Bernosky, 2011). Needless to say, this water is supposed to be circulated in terms of this asset without mixing up with any external source of water even though percentage of pollutant materials is decreased.
Safe Drinking Water Act
The law has been also issued in 1974 for protection of the drinking water quality and classification of water types for various purposes, especially public use of water for personal consumption, medication, and recreation. The law contains a minimum of requirements, but a specification of water types and according purposes is compulsory. In such a way, oil and gas industry purposes are assigned to the Water Class II under permission of Safe Drinking Water Act. However, assurance of such water class not influencing the other types is also required on a regular basis without respect to a real possibility of mixing water classes. At the same time, the law allows use of methane fluids as they do not expose certain harm to drinking water (Macrory, 2014). Conversely, substances containing methane are a subject to SDWA because methane produces different effects on water in combination with organic as well as non-organic materials. In the same way, the law excludes regulations in terms of underground injections for gas storage purposes or mining for detection of certain fluids for their further exploration, analysis or non-industrial use. The law has been amended in 2005 and included exemptions concerning fluid propping agents.
National Environmental Policy Act
The law has been designed in 1969 in order to oblige all federal agencies and organizations to conduct an environmental analysis and assessment regarding their impacts on the environment. The type of assessment depends heavily on the sphere of a particular organization and its potential capacity of polluting the environment. In 2005, Energy Policy Act has made certain activities to be exclusionary regarding NEPA such as agricultural and forest-related activities. Still, these spheres need an overall assessment in order to ensure absence of any distinct threats to the environment. The amendment has a recommending nature so that it cannot become a subject to criminal responsibility under NEPA. To be more specific, such cases are obliged to provide the related governmental agencies with a so-called Environmental Impact statement, which presents general information about a certain organization’s activity in terms of negative impacts on the environment. Eventually, it is to be admitted that National Environmental Policy Act requires certain specific spheres of human activity to conduct an independent evaluation of peculiar impacts on the environment (Miller & Spoonsman, 2011). This aspect is mainly connected to such agencies as Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. It is also worth mentioning that cases of non-compliance are the subject to criminal prosecution under the federal law.
Resource Conservation and Recovery Act
The act has been issued in 1976 as a result of need to protect human health, environment and the related infrastructure from potential harms and negative influences of waste disposal, pollution, and to rationalize consumption of natural resources on the basis of general considerations of environmental concerns. In December 1978, the law has been amended and specified in terms of specification what exact wastes should be regarded as a distinct evidence of the environment pollution. The materials include cement kiln dust, miming ashes, and wastes of oil, gas or geothermal waste production. However, Soil Disposal Act, which has been designed in 1980, managed to exempt oil field wastes. It is essential to place the emphasis on the fact that this action is permitted by Soil Disposal Act only in cases when the environmental assessment does not witness about any pollution potentials (Environmental Law Institute, 2007). It is also pivotal to note that every single category of wastes is an independent subject to the investigation of the Environmental Protection Agencies, which evaluates every single case separately as long as harms of the same category of wastes is tending to vary because of external factors.
Emergency Planning and Right-to-Know Act
Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act
The act has been enacted in 1980 as a result of a strong need for holding all potential polluting agencies responsible for dumping, disposing, or inappropriate storage of hazardous and toxic materials. The federal law requires creation of special sites for disposal, recycling, or storage of hazardous materials. On the contrary, the law excludes such materials as crude oil and its wastes, natural gas liquids, and any of their component fractions. It can be explained by the fact that these materials are naturally-produced and cannot make harm to the environment. There are certain cases, in which the law can be used for a legal prosecution though. It is cases of use gas or oil materials in terms, which are potentially dangerous for the environment, private and public health so that they are a subject to legal responsibility (Ferrey, 2010). As petroleum contamination has become a strong environmental problem, the congress expressed an agreement concerning enforcement of overall petroleum clean-up within the United States. Nowadays, petroleum tank storages and cleaning initiatives are supported by local and communal organs rather than by state or federal ones.
Analysis of The Laws
To start with, it is necessary to give an account to Clean Water Act. The law has been properly scoped so that relevant problems can be addressed, especially in terms of the developing technologies and oil industry within the U.S. That is why this has been enacted appropriately. It is also important to place the emphasis on permitting system as a method of regulation. In other words, various companies and organizations are not restricted but permitted to perform under certain conditions, which are required by Clean Water Act. It is quite different positioning of the legislative standards. In regard to the law’s exemptions, it is to be said that they are totally unnecessary and wrong. Nobody would deny the fact that oil and gas wastes expose less or no threat to the environment. The law justifies industrial purposes and needs of the country, but none of guidelines or frameworks of industrial sustainability were not suggested at the federal level. Conversely, amendments concerning use of storm water runoffs are quite a reasonable decision as long as the industrial sectors also needs supply of water for technical and energy purposes (Matata, 2013). Thus, the law is nearly relevant, except exemptions that are obviously unnecessary.
As for Safe Drinking Water Act, it is necessary to admit that it has been also a proper decision with regard to the current state of drinking water and potential threats. Therefore, this environmental consideration has managed to secure not only natural water but the U.S. population, as well. By the same token, that has succeeded in a reasonable classification of water classes so that technical types should never mix with drinking one. In other words, this regulation has restricted the pollution of drinking water and indicated what exact water is allowed for technical use purposes (Bell et al., 2014). In contrast, methane fluids have been exempted even though they are still harmful to the human health. It can be explained by its physical as well as chemical characteristics, in spite of the fact that it is organic material. There is a wide range of cases, in which methane fluids can lead to poisoning, asphyxia. Underground injections for gas storage and fluid pumping-outs are not sound reasons, as well. The law has failed to take into account potential damages to the soil and the deeper layers of the earth. Again, an attempt to make a regulative law and satisfy demands of the industrial sectors has failed in terms of this law.
To speak about National Environmental Policy Act, it is also worth mentioning that this law has been enacted reasonably in accordance with increasing tendency of industrialization and technical progress. It has been an appropriate reaction on the growing threat to the environment from various fields of human activity. The law, however, has made several wrong exemptions. To the greatest extent, every single sphere of human activity exposes certain harm to the environment to various degrees. There should not have been any exclusions regarding obligation to conduct the environmental assessment. However, the law has presupposed Environmental Impacts Statement, which is quite sufficient for reporting about environmental harm made by a particular agency or company (Legal Briefs, 2010). This procedure does not imply any specific standards while the access to the environmental for every single company is supposed to be opened for related governmental agencies as well as publicity. Eventually, this law obliges specific segments of industry to make an independent environmental analysis in accordance with peculiar features of the sphere, in which a particular company performs. It is fair to note that this is a reasonable requirement as various industrial segments make different impact on the environment.
Likewise, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act should be also regarded as a reasonable decision. It can be explained by the fact that a potential threat to the environment can be presented to the materials, which are related to fracking, but are not in a current use. As it has been mentioned several times before, exemptions are not a positive perspective of the environmental regulations since every single exclusion contribute to proactive damaging of the environment. Exemptions cannot be justified by any industrial or social needs. Otherwise, they simply diminish the effectiveness of environmental laws and regulations. The law is effective in terms of specific investigations regarding a particular type of hazardous material. In other words, every single poisonous substance has to undergo a special analysis, which is legally required. This is an evident advantage of this law as long as a possibility of hazardous leaks can be decreased considerably (Fairfax & Russel, 2014). Generally speaking, this law is well-balanced, even though certain exemptions could have been avoided. The law does not limit any organization to a particular amount of hazardous materials but obliges them to follow distinct and simple standards of dumping, disposal, recycling, technical use, and etc. so that this law can be considered as effective one.
Then, Emergency Planning and Right-to-Know Act has become a widespread law across the U.S. so that it should be regarded as a positive effect concerning environmental awareness of the U.S. population. What is more, safety considerations have been also addressed owing to this law. In a like manner, requirements to conditions of hazardous materials storage are also a pivotal aspect as pollutant substances are able to expose a danger even in passive and unused conditions. Conditions of the equipment and related facilities are also related to this obligation because safety depends heavily upon these aspects, as well. The requirements and list of hazardous materials obliged with specific storage conditions keep expending so that fracking industry is under a strong limitation regarding permission to store pollutant materials. Still, it is a positive aspect since fracking will not make much harm besides its specific area of performance. Unfortunately, crude oil and gas fluids have been excluded form the list without rulings for exemption. That means that fracking is still a dangerous activity because shale gas fluids have a chance to mix with water and soil. Needless to say, the law limits many of industries, but fracking remains nearly unaddressed.
Eventually, Comprehensive Environmental Response Act is also a well-justified law, which is quite effective. It can be explained by the fact that holds the entire U.S. population responsible for making harm to the environment. Hence, fracking as a potentially harmful activity is required to meet the following standard. In fact, it is an overall obligation to place special sites of waste and hazardous material disposal. Actually, this requirement balances the environmental regulation as the other laws include certain exemptions. As a result, any organization has to dispose or dump its pollutant materials in accordance with the standards of the site even though some materials are permitted under some environmental law. Again, crude oil and natural gas fluids do not belong to the list of required materials even though they expose a threat to the human health. Their use is quite infrequent in terms of fracking, but a certain possibility still exists. Finally, public initiatives of placing petroleum tanks for storage is a positive tendency, except the fact that it is not supported on the federal level. Probably, the same initiative will be directed towards fracking mining as well as shale gas industry as a whole as the government does not make enough effort for preservation of this environmental aspect.
In regard to the possible recommendations for the environmental laws and regulations in terms of fracking, it is pivotal to suggest elimination of all existing exemptions. It can be explained by the fact that they only disturb the original environmental law from producing its effect over a certain perspective of environmental protection. Some sustainability plans have to be suggested instead. It is becoming increasingly apparent that many companies have already implemented sustainability planning in their performance. Therefore, they are expected to be rewarded with certain bonuses from the side of the government in order to motivate the rest of industrial segment to follow the pattern of sustainable business. In such a way, the analysed laws will be factually effective and balanced as current exemptions are not justified and keep exposing threat to the environment, shale gas industry especially.
In addition, more detailed reporting as well as environmental assessment has to be required for all agencies. The reporting should include not only overall statistics regarding environmental harms but a list of equipment and materials with relevant percentage of their hazardous effects per one unit or asset. The government is supposed to support the organizations, especially shale gas companies, with consulting, certain equipment, software, and information technologies in order to create the federal database of environmental harms reporting. That will be a considerable help from the side of the government and relevant effectiveness produced by the companies, which are enabled to manage their environmental impacts. This tendency will be especially important for fracking mining as long as its controversial public status has been raged unabated. Needless to say, the recommendations are not the last ones as the current regulations can be improved from the following perspectives.
It is also recommended to initiate tests of all types of water on a regular basis. This suggestion is particularly focused on the need to ensure that no of Class II water mixes up with drinking one. Such sort of test can address the larger extent and every single company has to pass such testing. In the same way, hazardous and pollutant substances will have to pass assessing testing from the perspective of their hazarding potential. The results of the testing should compute parameters for a safe storage, transportation, and active performance of the hazardous materials. The testing has to be primarily related to the industry of fracking mining as well as the other types of shale gas segment. Overall, the industry should face a wide range of major reforms. Otherwise, the industry is likely to be banned as the consequences of its performance have become an object of public concerns.
The environmental laws and regulations have to consider such aspects as noise and air pollution as well even though they are not directly connected to fracking mining. Nobody would deny that this activity also produces a noise, which can be harmful to people living nearby. Air pollution is not an exact result of fracking, but it is produced by vehicles, trucks, and other equipment utilized for fracking. That is why indirect air pollution is also an issue that has to be addressed on the legislative basis. For instance, some standards to loudness and vehicle use can be also enacted at least in terms of Environmental Impacts Statement. Provided that a certain mine does not produce excessive noise or is located in distant place from living area, it does not have to face any limitations. This is the main suggestions concerning environmental laws and regulations from the perspective of fracking.
All in all, it should be admitted that the paper has discussed the environmental laws and regulations related to fracking mining. The study has defined the term of fracking and drawn a link to the legislative field. Then, the related laws have been presented. As a consequence, the paper has conducted their analysis and evaluation from the perspective of environmental protection. The outcomes of the analysis have become a basis for the solutions, which have been also suggested for filling the potential gaps in the laws. The study has addressed not only environmental implications of fracking mining but the entire shale gas industry, as well. This is a distinct advantage of the study as it relates to terms that belong to the similar spheres of human activity. Conversely, the main limitation of the study is absence of the external perspective, which implies social movements, communities, and other non-governmental of environmental protection.
To conclude with, it is fair to make a general comment on the fact that all related laws include exemptions, which are actually exposing a danger to the environment. The study has recognized that tendency as the governmental attempt to keep the laws balanced between environmental protection and industrial purposes of the national economy, but the majority of the exclusions lead to the poor outcomes since the laws do not produce a desired effect. The environment is still in danger as a set of exemptions is sufficient for making harm to the environment on a day-to-day basis. That is why the paper has suggested a complete elimination of all exemption as they are an evident obstacle towards protection of the environment. Finally, a detailed discussion of the outlined solutions is recommended as a direction for the future research because numerous gaps have to be filled.