Loophole: Lax Rules for Drillers that Inject Pollutants Into the Earth

"Injection wells used to dispose of the nation's most toxic waste are showing increasing signs of stress as regulatory oversight falls short and scientific assumptions prove flawed."

"On a cold, overcast afternoon in January 2003, two tanker trucks backed up to an injection well site in a pasture outside Rosharon, Texas. There, under a steel shed, they began to unload thousands of gallons of wastewater for burial deep beneath the earth.

The waste -- the byproduct of oil and gas drilling -- was described in regulatory documents as a benign mixture of salt and water. But as the liquid rushed from the trucks, it released a billowing vapor of far more volatile materials, including benzene and other flammable hydrocarbons.

 The truck engines, left to idle by their drivers, sucked the fumes from the air, revving into a high-pitched whine. Before anyone could react, one of the trucks backfired, releasing a spark that ignited the invisible cloud.

Fifteen-foot-high flames enveloped the steel shed and tankers. Two workers died, and four were rushed to the hospital with burns over much of their bodies. A third worker died six weeks later."

Abrahm Lustgarten reports for ProPublica September 20, 2012.

Source: ProPublica, 09/21/2012