EPA Evaluation Concludes Revisions to Federal Solid Waste Management Regulations of Oil and Gas – July 2019

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EPA Evaluation Concludes Revisions to Federal Solid Waste Management Regulations of Oil and Gas – July 2019

By: George Colvin, CPG, CHMM

Section 2002(b) of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) requires every regulation promulgated under the Act to be reviewed and, where necessary, revised at least every three years. In 2016, EPA was sued for its alleged failure to review and, as necessary, revise its federal nonhazardous solid waste (Subtitle D of RCRA) regulations for wastes associated with the exploration, development and production (E&P) of crude oil, natural gas, and geothermal energy. The lawsuit was, in part, driven by the significant advancements in the production of crude oil and natural gas from hydraulic fracturing and directional drilling used to access black shale, tight oil and other “unconventional” formations. These advancements and the volume of wastes currently generated were not fully envisioned in 1988 when EPA issued a regulatory determination exempting E&P wastes from Subtitle C (hazardous waste regulations) of RCRA.

In response to the 2016 lawsuit, EPA entered into a consent decree to conduct the review and formally document whether revisions to the federal solid waste management regulations are necessary at this time. To support this effort, EPA conducted a literature review of government, industry and academic sources to supplement information available from previous agency actions related to the issue. The review evaluated factors such as waste characteristics, management practices, damage cases and the coverage of state programs. The review focused primarily on E&P wastes from crude oil and natural gas, as available data indicate that geothermal production remains limited to a few states and has not undergone a similar surge in production.

On April 26, 2019, EPA released the results of its required review of E&P wastes in a 279-page report entitled Management of Oil and Gas Exploration, Development and Production Wastes: Factors Informing a Decision on the Need for Regulatory Action. EPA concludes in the report that although the oil and gas industry has undergone a significant transformation in recent years, states have also revised their regulatory programs to adapt to the challenges posed by these technological advancements and that revisions to the federal regulations for the management of E&P wastes of crude oil, natural gas and geothermal energy under Subtitle D of RCRA (40 CFR Part 257) are not necessary at this time. 

George H. Colvin is a hydrogeologist with over 30 years of consulting experience. Much of his experience has focused on RCRA Corrective Action, RCRA closure, and groundwater investigation, monitoring, and cleanup. He holds a BS in Geology from Ohio University and MS in geology and hydrology from Vanderbilt University. He is a Certified Professional Geologist with the American Institute of Professional Geologists, a registered geologist in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee, and a Certified Hazardous Materials Manager.