Authority over underground injection of fluids produced as a result of oil and gas exploration and production activities has been delegated to the Commission by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and follows national requirements adopted under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act regarding groundwater protection. The Commission’s Underground Injection Control (UIC) program features regulations specifically tailored to protect underground sources of drinking water from harm resulting from injection or disposal of oilfield waste into underground formations.
In accordance with 16 Texas Administrative Code (TAC) §3.9 and §3.46 (Statewide Rules 9 and 46)], the Commission grants injection and disposal wells permits for UIC Class II wells (injection wells associated with oil and gas production) when they meet the requirements of the Commission’s UIC Program. The UIC permitting process features numerous requirements and safeguards including: notice to the public [16 TAC §3.9(5) and §3.46(c)]; hearing opportunities; a review of area geology; and required areas of review [16 TAC §3.9(7)(A) and §3.46(e)(1)] near the proposed wells to determine if there are other wells penetrating the same geologic horizon proposed for disposal.
When permitting injection and disposal wells, the Commission reviews the application and related data to:
- determine whether an operator is eligible for a permit (has no past due franchise taxes, has the required financial assurance, and has no outstanding compliance problems applicable to the proposed injection or disposal operation);
- determine whether all required entities have been properly notified (Commission rules require that for non-commercial wells, the surface owner and nearby oil and gas well operators be notified, and for commercial wells that adjacent surface owners be notified) [See 16 TAC §3.9(5) and 3.46(c)];
- in the event a protest is filed, notify the operator that the application cannot be approved administratively, and advise the operator of their right to a hearing on the application;
- determine whether the proposed injection well is properly constructed to protect groundwater with required surface casing and cement to the base of usable quality water as determined by Commission’s Groundwater Advisory Unit and with long string casing and cement to ensure that the fluid is confined to the proposed injection or disposal interval [16 TAC §3.13 (Statewide Rule 13)]; and
- determine that there are no known improperly completed, improperly plugged or unplugged and abandoned oil and gas wells within at least a ¼ mile radius of the proposed injection well (This is known as the area of review 16 TAC §3.9 (7) and §3.46 (e), and may be expanded up to one mile radius or more in some circumstances).
For a commercial disposal facility, permits include requirements in addition to those listed above, such as restricted access through a 24-hour security guard or a gated and locked facility, and leak and overflow protection requirements.
A permit application may be administratively approved by the Commission’s technical staff if no timely protest is received and the application is technically complete. However, if a permit application is protested, a hearing is required to be held in accordance with 16 TAC §3.9(5)(E) and §3.46(c)(5). Based on evidence presented during the hearing, Commission hearing examiners issue a Proposal for Decision (PFD) recommending approval or denial of the permit application. The PFD is then presented to the agency’s three Commissioners during an open meeting. The Commissioners then make decisions whether to grant or deny the applied-for permit. (See 16 TAC §1.141-§1.146)
In addition to the UIC permitting process, the Commission’s requirements for proper well construction and completion, injection procedures and monitoring ensure that fresh water sources are not impacted by produced water.
The Commission also regulates the surface management of oil and gas waste through other rules. See 16 TAC §3.8
(Statewide Rule 8).