Federal and State Laws
The federal Safe Drinking Water Act defines specific provisions for protecting underground sources of drinking water, including provisions for controlling underground injection practices. Congress intended that States have the responsibility for primary enforcement of the Act. Congress, during the formulation of the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974, recognized the need to protect underground sources of drinking water from contamination by underground injection and the need for effective state regulatory measures. Therefore, it directed the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop underground injection regulations to guide states in establishing their own programs. The Act provides that if a state does not adopt a program consistent with federal requirements, then the EPA must develop and implement the program in the state. The main purposes of the EPA regulations are:
- to identify underground sources of drinking water and define what constitutes endangerment of these sources;
- to direct the states to set up their own underground injection control programs to protect these drinking water sources;
- to describe the requirements of such programs and permit systems;
- to set forth procedures to ensure enforcement of these requirements by the states or by the federal government if the states fail to do so; and
- to list construction, permitting, operating, monitoring and reporting requirements for specific types of wells.
State of Texas Injection-Storage Permits and Support Program
The Railroad Commission's jurisdiction and responsibilities in petroleum regulation have increased steadily through the years. Today, its broad authority over oil and gas exploration and production is derived from the Texas Natural Resources Code and from Chapters 26, 27, and 29 of the Texas Water Code. The Commission has been active in the regulation of underground injection activities for more than fifty years. The first permit to inject water into a productive reservoir was issued in 1936.
On January 2, 1980, the Underground Injection Control Section (now called the Technical Permitting Section) of the Oil and Gas Division was created to administer an underground injection control (UIC) program consistent with state and federal law, including:
- oversight of the injection, disposal, and hydrocarbon storage well permits already issued;
- processing new permit applications; and
- coordination with EPA and other federal and state agencies in a concerted program to protect fresh water in Texas.
EPA approved the Commission's UIC program for Class II injection wells on April 23, 1982.
Class II injection wells include:
- injection wells used to dispose of "oil and gas waste," a term that is defined to cover salt water and other produced fluids, wastes associated with the underground storage of hydrocarbons, and wastes arising out of, or incidental to, the operation of gasoline plants, natural gas processing plants, and pressure maintenance or repressuring plants (Chapter 27, Texas Water Code);
- injection wells used to enhance recovery of oil and gas (§91.101, Natural Resources Code); and
- underground hydrocarbon storage wells (§91.201 et.seq., Natural Resources Code).
The Railroad Commission also regulates brine mining injection wells under Chapter 27 of the Texas Water Code. Brine mining injection operations produce brine by injecting fresh water, dissolving salt strata, and producing the brine, usually through the same well. This type of well is classified by EPA as a Class III injection well, or one which injects for the extraction of minerals. EPA approved the Commissons UIC program for these wells on February 26, 2004.