Fort Peck Tribes are first in nation to assume key groundwater protection responsibilities
Release Date: 10/27/2008
Contact Information: Douglas Minter, 303 312-6078; Richard Mylott, 303 312-6654
Injection control program safely manages waste fluids generated from oil wells
(Denver, Colo. -- October 27, 2008) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced the approval of the Fort Peck Tribes Underground Injection Control (UIC) program, making the Tribes the first in the nation to assume the program to protect underground drinking water sources. As a result of this action, the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux (Fort Peck) Tribes of Montana are authorized to administer and enforce their own Class II injection well program under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.
The Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes will regulate all existing and future Class II injection wells located within the exterior boundaries of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation. EPA has determined that the Tribes' UIC program meets federal regulatory requirements to allow the safe disposal of fluid wastes into the subsurface in a manner that does not endanger current or future underground drinking water sources. The 24 Class II injection wells currently operating on the Reservation are used to safely dispose of fluid wastes (e.g., brines) brought to the surface during oil production. Almost all of these wells are owned and operated by Tribal non-members.
"The Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes are in the best position to effectively oversee oil development-related activities and prevent the contamination of their drinking water," said Steve Tuber, EPA's assistant regional administrator in Denver. "This action is a recognition of Tribal capacity and sovereignty that paves the way for other Tribes with the technical ability to manage this important program."
Class II UIC regulations are specifically designed to protect underground sources of drinking water. When oil and gas are extracted, large amounts of brine are typically brought to the surface. These fluid wastes typically contain high levels of salt (total dissolved solids) and also may contain toxic metals and potentially hazardous petroleum hydrocarbons such as benzene and toluene. By injecting the brine deep underground, Class II wells prevent surface contamination of soil and water.
Under the UIC program, the Tribes will permit, monitor, and enforce regulations to ensure injection wells are designed and maintained properly and that fluid disposal occurs in confined subsurface locations with no connection to existing and potential drinking water sources. In anticipation of EPA’s approval, the Tribes’ qualified UIC program staff has already been conducting compliance inspections of Class II injection wells under an agreement with EPA.
"The Tribes are excited about this long-awaited approval," said Deb Madison, The Fort Peck Tribes’ environmental programs manager. "We're anxious to get to work and implement a program that's responsive to the oil and gas industry and effectively protects the Reservation's valuable underground drinking water resources."
In addition to the safe subsurface disposal of fluid wastes associated with oil and gas production, Class II wells may also be used to inject fluids to enhance oil and gas recovery or for the storage of hydrocarbons. The Tribes’ UIC regulations cover all of these activities by requiring that oil and gas lease owners and operators maintain the mechanical integrity of their injection wells and adequately confine injected fluids in the subsurface. In general, EPA considers Class II injection to be an environmentally preferable alternative to discharging oil and gas-produced waste fluids to surface waters or pits.
The final rule announcing EPA’s approval, “Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes in Montana; Underground Injection Control Program; Primacy Approval and Minor Revisions” has been published in the Federal Register. The rule and other supporting information is available at: http://www.epa.gov/region8/water/uic
For more on EPA's UIC program and Class II wells, visit: http://www.epa.gov/safewater/uic/wells_class2.html