Surface discharge of water used in oil recovery common throughout Wyoming

Nov 21, 2012

The EPA issues water discharge permits on the Wind River Indian Reservation to oil and gas companies bringing up water with their oil. 

That water, called produced water, is dirty and often warm even in winter. The permits are issued through an EPA waiver that allows such water to be discharged in the arid West if it’s being used beneficially.  In the drier parts of Wyoming it is sometimes the only source of water for livestock and wildlife.

NPR reported concerns about the practice last week.  But the Administrator of the Water Quality Division of Wyoming’s Department of Environmental Quality, John Wagner, says it’s done all over the state, not just on the reservation.

“When the EPA provided that waiver we adopted a set of regulations that said, ok, if water meets these set of criteria, no more than 10mg/L of oil and grease, no more than 5,000mg/L of total dissolved solids, so on, then that water is suitable for use and we will allow it.”

EPA evaluates such permits on Wind River on a case-by-case basis and has different standards than the state.

Wagner says there are several hundred such discharges around the state.  In contrast, one nation-wide estimate says that 98% of produced water is injected back into the ground, where it’s less likely to hurt anyone.