Well Drilling Wastewater Management

Geological Survey Program fact sheet
Missouri Geological Survey Director: Joe Gillman

Discharging wastewater from well drilling sites may cause water pollution and violate the Missouri Clean Water Law. Wastewater from drilling operations contains sediment, mud, foam and other drilling additives that can pollute a stream or river (even if it is temporarily dry), a wetland, channel or well.

Well cuttings and substances used in the drilling process can cause visual, chemical and biological changes to nearby streams. These changes are recognized as pollution and can degrade water quality supporting fish and aquatic life. This creates violations of the Missouri Clean Water Law and Regulations.

Regulatory Requirements
A wastewater permit is not needed when drilling or developing a well, as long as you don’t pollute a stream, lake or other waterway.
Contractors who impact streams, lakes, or other waterways could face penalties and other actions, and may be required to get wastewater permits before working on future drilling projects.

Important Considerations
Each drilling project presents a unique set of factors to consider. Some of these factors are the steepness of the site, how close it is to the nearest water body, and the amount of recent rainfall. These factors affect the amount of runoff produced by the drilling process and the distance that the drilling wastewater can travel away from the wellhead.
Well drillers should adopt practices and methods that keep drilling wastewater on-site and out of nearby storm drains or streams. The following are some ways this can be done:

Best Management Practices (BMPs)
When you change the well drilling process or install structures to either avoid discharge or limit the pollutants in the drilling wastewater to the least amount possible during well drilling and development, this is referred to as using Best Management Practices. BMPs are also described as practical ways to ensure minimal risk to the environment without costing a lot of extra time or money. It is the driller’s responsibility to make sure that BMPs are put in place and maintained during the entire well drilling process. Some examples of BMPs are:

For more information:
Missouri Department of Natural Resources
Missouri Geological Survey
Wellhead Protection Section
111 Fairgrounds Road
PO Box 250
Rolla, MO 65402-0250
Phone: 573-368-2165
Fax: 573-368-2317