Drinking Water

Safeguards Are Not Preventing Contamination From Injected Oil and Gas Wastes Gao ID: RCED-89-97 July 5, 1989

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Underground Injection Control (UIC) Program, focusing on: (1) whether evidence exists of drinking water contamination from injection wells used in oil and gas production, known as Class II wells, and if so, the causes and actions taken to prevent similar occurrences; and (2) the degree to which states have implemented program safeguards to protect against drinking water contamination.

GAO found that: (1) there were 23 cases of drinking water contamination, but the full extent of contamination was unknown; (2) EPA estimated that there are about 1.2 million abandoned oil and gas wells in the United States, 200,000 of which may be improperly plugged, and 3 of the 4 states reviewed said that the numbers of improperly plugged wells are increasing; (3) most Class II wells operated before the UIC program, and most contamination cases involved existing wells, but EPA did not subject existing wells to the requirement to search and plug nearby improperly plugged wells; and (4) some states issued permits to operate Class II wells without evidence that the applicant had conducted pressure tests, and some have not finished reviewing files and pressure testing some of the existing wells.


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