Federal Regulations: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
(the EPA or the Agency) is entrusted with protecting human health and safeguarding
the natural environment—air, water, and land. The EPA works with other
federal agencies, state and local governments, and Indian tribes to develop
and enforce regulations under existing environmental laws. The EPA, which is
responsible for researching and setting national standards for a variety of
federal environmental programs, delegates to states and tribes the responsibilities
for issuing permits and monitoring and enforcing compliance. Where national
standards are not met, the EPA can issue sanctions and take other steps to assist
the states and tribes in reaching the desired levels of environmental quality.
Programs not delegated to the states are managed through the EPA's regional
offices. In addition to the various Headquarters program
offices, the EPA maintains 10
regional offices and 17 laboratories across the country.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Ariel Rios Building
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Mail Code 3213A
Washington, DC 20460
(202) 272-0167 (phone)
Overnight Package Delivery:
1201 Constitution Avenue, N.W.
Room Number 4101 M
Washington, DC 20004
Disposal Practices and Applicable Regulations
- Hazardous Waste Exemption for Oil and Gas Exploration and Production Wastes. In 1980, Congress conditionally exempted oil and gas exploration and production (E&P) wastes from the hazardous waste management requirements of Subtitle C of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) (Section 3001(b)(2)(A) of RCRA and Section 8002(m) of RCRA). In addition to directing the EPA to study these wastes and submit a report to Congress on the status of their management, Congress required the Agency either to promulgate regulations under Subtitle C of RCRA or make a determination that such regulations were unwarranted.
- In 1988, the EPA published its Regulatory Determination for Oil and Gas and Geothermal Exploration, Development, and Production Wastes in the Federal Register (FR) at 53 FR 25447 (July 6, 1988), along with lengthy lists of wastes determined to be either exempt or non-exempt. Examples of exempt wastes include drilling fluids and drill cuttings. The EPA rearticulated the exemption in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) at 40 CFR § 2 61.4(b)(5). In 1993, the EPA published the Clarification of the Regulatory Determination for Wastes from the Exploration, Development and Production of Crude Oil, Natural Gas, and Geothermal Energy in the Federal Register (FR) at 58 FR 15284 (March 22, 1993). In 2002, the EPA published an information booklet entitled Exemption of Oil and Gas Exploration and Production Wastes from Federal Hazardous Waste Regulations.
- The federal E&P RCRA Subtitle C exemption, however, does not preclude these wastes from control under other federal regulations and state regulations (including oil and gas conservation programs and some hazardous waste programs).
- Discharge Operations. The Clean Water Act (CWA) requires that all discharges of pollutants to surface waters (streams, rivers, lakes, bays, and oceans) must be authorized by a permit issued under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program. The two basic types of NPDES permits issued are individual and general permits. Individual NPDES permits are specifically tailored to individual facilities. General NPDES permits cover multiple facilities within a certain category located in a specific geographical area. The EPA has published federal NPDES regulations under the CWA, and may authorize states—as well as territories and tribes—to implement all or parts of the national program. Once approved, a state gains the authority to issue permits and administer the program. However, the EPA retains the opportunity to review the permits issued by the state, and formally object to elements deemed in conflict with federal requirements. The EPA's website depicts state program status.
- Calculation of Effluent Limits. Permit writers derive effluent limits from the applicable technology-based effluent limitation guidelines (ELGs) and water quality-based standards. The more stringent of the two will be written into the permit. For oil and gas operations, the EPA has codified the ELGs in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) at 40 CFR Part 435—Oil and Gas Extraction Point Source Category.
- Regional General Permits. Four of the EPA's regional
offices (4, 6, 9 and 10) have issued general permits to facilities discharging
into ocean waters beyond the three-mile limit of the territorial seas and
may also issue permits to facilities in the territorial sea if the adjoining
state does not have an approved NPDES program. Regional NPDES permits impose
additional operational, monitoring, testing, and reporting requirements.
- Ocean Discharge Criteria Evaluation. Discharges into territorial seas, contiguous zones, and the oceans must undergo an additional level of review to ensure that they do not cause unreasonable degradation of the marine environment. The review is based on the EPA's ocean discharge criteria regulations codified in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) at Subpart M of 40 CFR Part 125.
- Other NPDES Permit Conditions. Facilities are responsible for taking the steps necessary to demonstrate compliance with NPDES permit limits. Responsibilities include sampling, recordkeeping, reporting, and preparation of best management practices plans or spill prevention plans.
- Injection Operations. With the passage of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) in 1974, the subsurface injection of injected waste water came under federal regulation. In 1980, the EPA promulgated the Underground Injection Control (UIC) regulations. The UIC program is designed to protect underground sources of drinking water (USDWs). A USDW is an aquifer or portion of an aquifer that supplies any public water system or contain sufficient quantity of groundwater to supply a public water system; currently supplies drinking water for human consumption or contains fewer than 10,000 milligrams/liter total dissolved solids; and is not an aquifer exempted from UIC regulations. For purposes of regulatory control, the regulations distinguish between different classes of injection wells, including those associated with the production of oil and gas. The oil field injection wells are known as UIC Class II wells.
- The regulatory minimum
requirements and technical
criteria and standards govern permitting, area
of review analysis, mechanical integrity, construction,
operating, monitoring and reporting, and plugging
- The EPA has established minimum standards for state programs prior to receiving primacy for the UIC program under Section 1422 of the SDWA. In the wake of a congressional amendment, Section 1425 of the SDWA relieves oil- and gas-related injection well programs in the states from having to meet the technical requirements in the UIC regulations. Instead, the demonstration can be made that the State has an effective program (including adequate oversight, record-keeping, and reporting) in place to prevent the endangerment of USDWs by underground injection operations. Because the Section 1425 approval route offers greater flexibility, most states that have obtained UIC primacy have done so that way. Native American tribes also follow the same rules for obtaining primacy if they are considered a "Federally Recognized Tribe" and have been designated as receiving "Treatment Similar to a State." The EPA's website reports that the Agency has approved program primacy for all well classes in 34 states, that it shares responsibility in six states, and that it directly implements the program for all well classes in 10 states (and in all Native American lands). The Agency provides grant funds to all delegated programs to help pay for program costs. States must provide a 25% match.
- Additional Links Recommended by EPA. As part of an external review of this website during its development, a representative from the EPA Headquarters recommended that DWMIS provide links to the following EPA informational resources: