EPA determines that revisions to Subtitle D regulations for oil and gas wastes are unnecessary

The PIOGA Press

(by Jean Mosites)

In May 2016, various environmental groups, including the Environmental Integrity Project and the Natural Resources Defense Council, filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that the United States Environmental Protection Agency failed to evaluate its regulations for managing wastes associated with oil and gas development activities as non-hazardous under Subtitle D of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). The suit alleged that EPA had a non-discretionary duty under RCRA to periodically review and, if necessary, revise its Subtitle D regulations for solid waste disposal facilities and state solid waste management plans with respect to oil and gas development wastes. It further alleged that EPA had not done so since 1988 and that EPA should be ordered to conduct a subsequent review. The 1980 Bentsen Amendment to RCRA had exempted oil and gas wastes from regulation under RCRA Subtitle C as hazardous waste and permits regulation of such wastes under Subtitle D as non-hazardous. Earlier, EPA had declined a 2010 petition by NRDC requesting E&P waste be regulated as hazardous under Subtitle C.

The May 2016 lawsuit was resolved in December 2016 through the entry of a consent decree in which EPA agreed to either propose revisions to its Subtitle D regulations for oil and gas wastes or make a determination that revision of such regulations is unnecessary by April 23, 2019. On April 23, EPA determined that revising its Subtitle D regulations was not necessary.

To arrive at its determination, EPA examined regulatory programs in states such as Pennsylvania accounting for the vast majority of oil and gas production in the United States. EPA reviewed current waste management practices, waste characteristics, and E&P waste release/spill incidents in these states. The agency found that: 1) uncontrolled releases of oil and gas wastes are uncommon; 2) human error, non-compliance with existing state regulations and equipment failure are the primary cause of releases; and 3) recent releases that had been identified were well contained and addressed onsite. Concluding that state regulations address E&P wastes appropriately and incorporate many of the criteria EPA believes are important components of waste management programs, EPA decided not to revise its Subtitle D regulations.

The environmental groups who originally filed suit in 2016 have since criticized EPA’s determination and might pursue judicial review of EPA’s determination.

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