Deep Wells a Safe Haven for Hazardous Waste

Published January 1, 1998

Most Americans would be surprised to know that there is a waste management system already in operation in the United States that has no emissions into the air, no discharges to surface water, and no off-site transfers, and exposes people and the environment to virtually no hazards.

While it may sound too good to be true, the technology–called deep-well injection–has been around for almost a century.

Deep-well injection is a technologically sophisticated system that pumps wastewater thousands of feet below ground into porous geologic formations beneath the lowest underground source of drinking water. There, the wastes are absorbed and sealed, much like oil and gas deposits are sealed for millions of years. So-called Class 1 hazardous wells typically inject wastes several thousands of feet below the land’s surface. In the Great Lakes region, for example, well depths range from 1700 to 6000 feet. In the Gulf Coast, depths range from 2200 to 9500 feet.

More than fifty years of deep-well operations have seen not a single incident that has affected public health or seriously threatened the environment. Today, there are approximately 100 Class 1 hazardous waste injection wells in the United States, and about 200 Class 1 wells that hold non-hazardous waste.

Despite their stellar environmental and safety record, deep-well operations have been vilified by environmental groups. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), availing itself of the finest junk science at its disposal, continues to warn an unsuspecting public of the alleged dangers these wells pose. The NRDC’s attacks, more fundraising strategy than sound science, have not dissuaded EPA from praising the environmental benefits of deep-well injection. EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response has concluded that “Class 1 wells are safer than virtually all other waste disposal practices” for certain chemical industry wastes.