Water Groups Question Underground Injection of CO2

The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a rule setting a framework for the underground injection of carbon dioxide, in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while protecting drinking water resources.

by Patrick Crow, Washington Correspondent

The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a rule setting a framework for the underground injection of carbon dioxide, in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while protecting drinking water resources.

Administrator Stephen Johnson said, "With proper site selection and management, geologic sequestration could play a major role in reducing emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere."

The rule would create a new class of injection wells, Class VI, under the Safe Drinking Water Act's Underground Injection Control (UIC) program. The proposed rule builds on the existing UIC program, including requirements to ensure wells are appropriately located, constructed, tested, monitored, and eventually capped.

The proposal calls for the injected CO2 to be analyzed for contaminants such as hydrogen sulfide and sulfurous and nitrous oxides. If classified as containing hazardous substances, the CO2 would be regulated under UIC's more stringent Class I restrictions.

The rule is expected to be issued in 2010 or 2011. Although most CO2 sequestration would be in deep saline formations, depleted oil and gas reservoirs, or unmineable coal seams, EPA is concerned that the injections potentially could damage aquifers.

An American Water Works Association (AWWA) representative testified on the rule at a subsequent hearing by the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Hazardous Materials.

Don Broussard, water operations manager for the Lafayette, LA, utilities department, said, "Water chemistry in an underground setting is complex. We need to consider how geologic carbon sequestration could potentially release iron, manganese, arsenic, mercury, and possibly other inorganic substances into groundwater surrounding the injection zone."

He said AWWA also is concerned about undefined water rights between states sharing a single underground source of water and unresolved long-term liability/financial responsibility for sequestration sites. AWWA said commercial-scale injections should not occur before results are obtained from large-scale pilot projects.

Scott Anderson, of the Environmental Defense Fund, said Congress should pass CO2 cap and trade legislation, which would create a market mechanism for avoiding CO2 emissions.

He said, "Given the right incentives, we believe that the market will be far more effective and efficient in discovering necessary technologies of all types, including carbon capture and storage, than any suite of government mandates or subsidies, however well intentioned.

EPA Won't Regulate Selected Contaminants

EPA has decided it will not regulate 11 contaminants on the second drinking water contaminant candidate list (CCL 2). It said the contaminants either do not occur nationally in public water systems or occur at levels below a public health concern.

The 11 contaminants include naturally occurring substances, pesticides, herbicides, and chemicals used (or once used) in manufacturing. While none of the contaminants were found nationally at levels of public health concern in public water systems, EPA is updating health advisories for seven of the contaminants to provide current health information to concerned local officials.

EPA is updating health advisories for boron; dacthal mono- and di-acid degradates;1,3-dichloropropene (Telone); 2,4-dinitrotoluene, and 2,6-dinitrotoluene; and 1,1,2,2-tetrachloroethane.

It said updated or new advisories were not needed for 1-dichloro-2,2-bis(p-chlorophenyl) ethylene (DDE); s-ethyl propyl thiocarbamate (EPTC); Fonofos; and Terbacil, because the national monitoring data showed almost no occurrence at levels of public health concern.

The Safe Drinking Water Act requires EPA to develop a CCL every five years and then make a regulatory determination for at least five contaminants on the list. In 2005, the agency published the second CCL, which listed 51 contaminants.

The Environmental Working Group said, "It's outrageous that EPA continues to allow public exposure to potentially harmful chemicals."

The group said, "Our analysis of nationwide tap water found almost 100% compliance with enforceable health standards on the part of the nation's water utilities. The problem, however, is EPA's failure to establish enforceable health standards and monitoring requirements for scores of widespread tap water contaminants."

Senate StudiesPerchlorate Measure

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has reported a bill to regulate perchlorate and other toxic substances in drinking water.

Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) had authored the bill. Perchlorate, a toxic component of rocket fuel, has contaminated underground drinking water supplies in 35 states, including California.

The bill would require EPA to reestablish its previous perchlorate in drinking water monitoring rule and direct that consumers be advised about perchlorate contamination in their drinking water.

EPA also would have to create a perchlorate health advisory and then a drinking water standard, both of which would protect children and pregnant women.

Another approved bill would mandate that EPA update its tap water standards to protect against the solvent trichloroethylene (TCE). It is the most common organic groundwater contaminant in the U.S. and can cause cancer and birth defects. The bill also requires EPA to set a health advisory to warn consumers about dangerous levels of TCE.

A third bill requires EPA to establish a Small Public Water System Assistance Program to help those utilities comply with national primary drinking water regulations. The bill authorizes the program at $750 million per year for seven years. The funds would have to be appropriated later.

In other Washington news:

  • The Water Resources Coalition has urged Congress to pass fiscal 2009 Energy and Water Appropriations bills that fund the Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation. The House and Senate bills allocate $560-600 million more to the Corps and $150-600 million more to the Bureau than the Bush Administration requested.
  • The Bureau of Reclamation has issued a plan, part of its Water for America Initiative with the U.S. Geological Survey, to help communities meet increasing demands on limited water supplies.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that nearly 70% of the water supplied by community systems is fluoridated. It said the proportion of the U.S. population receiving fluoridated water, about 184 million people, increased from 65.8% in 1992 to 69.2% in 2006.
  • The Total Coliform Rule/Distribution System Advisory Committee has decided to recommend that EPA drop it's reliance on a total coliform maximum contaminant level (MCL) in favor of a treatment technique approach triggered by the total coliform regulatory number. The E. coli MCL would be unchanged.

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