The oil and gas industry generates a large amount of wastewater during operations. This wastewater, known as “produced water,” is a mixture of saltwater and oil that can also contain drilling chemicals. The industry takes great pains to contain this produced water safely, especially after the early nineties, when groundwater contamination caused a rash of cancer clusters in a small California town. The resulting lawsuit set a record for the largest settlement in history and was the basis for the blockbuster hit Erin Brockovich.
The problem with produced water is that it’s good for little else; oil and gas companies can reuse it up to a point, but mostly have to figure out how to store it economically and safely to avoid violating stringent regulations. Essentially, produced water is a problem that grows rapidly as production increases, resulting in rising costs to build and maintain safe storage systems for ever larger volumes of contaminated water.
A problem in search of a solution
The industry has experimented with various storage methods, none of which are perfect solutions and many of which are messy; lined ponds take up large areas, are unsightly and threaten local wildlife, and the liners can fail over time. Underground storage requires special containers, while aboveground containers carry their own risks (as we’ll see in just a moment). The root of the problem is that water is corrosive, and storing it artificially over time is expensive and difficult.
A recent incident in North Dakota highlighted just how fragile and easily compromised most produced water solutions are. From NewsOK:
“The state Health Department says a lightning strike at a saltwater disposal facility in northwest North Dakota led to the release of more than 16,500 gallons of what is known as produced water… Health Department Water Quality Director Karl Rockeman says about 3,360 gallons of the oilfield wastewater escaped the site. He says the spill traveled about 1,000 feet from the facility but did not threaten any water sources.”
Just a month earlier, The Environmental Defense Fund explained “that treating wastewater for use outside of the oil field is not economical, nor are the environmental and health risks well understood… For oil and gas wastewater, it may take a decade to identify and answer the fundamental questions needed to assure the public that new uses don’t cause more problems than they solve.”
Vigilance and prompt action can help protect your family
The point? Oilfields are dangerous places, not just to those who work in and around them day in and day out, but also to the innocent residents who live near them or draw water from affected aquifers. The hexavalent chromium contamination featured in Erin Brockovich was responsible for bringing water contamination into the spotlight, but the risks have grown exponentially since then. New techniques and chemicals are being introduced all the time to squeeze every last drop from oil and gas operations, each of which has the potential to affect an entire ecosystem (including us humans) for decades to come.
It’s common knowledge that working on an oilfield is risky business, but just living near one can put the health and safety of your family at risk. If your loved one has been affected by nearby oil and gas operations in any way, the experienced Oklahoma personal injury attorneys at Stipe Law can evaluate your case and help get you the compensation you deserve. Call (918) 505-7741 or contact us today for a free consultation.