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In the United States, hazardous wastes are subject to regulations mandated by the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Every month, we provide clear, in-depth guidance on a different aspect of the RCRA regulations. The information presented here is an excerpt from McCoy’s RCRA Unraveled, 2018 Edition.

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Used Oil Management Standards for Generators

According to §279.1, a “used oil generator” is:

“[A]ny person, by site, whose act or process produces used oil or whose act first causes used oil to become subject to regulation.”

The first part of this definition is fairly straightforward. The second part, “whose act first causes used oil to become subject to regulation,” is a little vague; we’ll clear that up in our discussions below. Examples of used oil generators include vehicle maintenance shops, automobile service stations, quick-lube shops, government motor pools, grocery stores, metal-working industries, and boat marinas. [EPA/530/F-96/004] Additional guidance on who qualifies as a used oil generator was given in preamble language:

“[Used oil] generators include all persons and businesses who produce used oil through commercial or industrial operations and vehicle services, including government agencies, and/or persons and businesses who collect used oil from households and ‘do-it-yourself’ oil changers.” [September 10, 1992; 57 FR 41584]

As both of these quotations imply, certain entities that generate used oil are exempt from regulation under Part 279. These entities, along with the point where the used oil they generate becomes subject to regulation, are as follows [§279.20(a)]:

  • Household do-it-yourselfers (DIYs) are exempt from Part 279. The used oil these households generate (from changing their own oil in their personal vehicles) becomes subject to regulation when it is accepted/aggregated at a used oil collection center (e.g., operated by a service station or quick-lube shop). Under this scenario, the collection center is considered the generator of the used oil. [May 3, 1993; 58 FR 26423, RO 11828]
  • Vessels at sea or in port that produce used oil are not subject to Part 279, until the used oil they generate is transported ashore. Once ashore, the used oil is subject to Part 279 regulation. In this case, the vessel owner/operator and the person who removes or accepts the used oil from the vessel are cogenerators of the used oil. Under this arrangement, both parties are responsible for managing the oil under the applicable provisions of the Part 279, Subpart C generator standards. “The cogenerators may decide among them which party will fulfill the requirements of this subpart.” [§279.20(a)(2)]
  • Generators who mix used oil generated onsite with diesel fuel for use in their own vehicles are not subject to Part 279 once the mixing has occurred. In this case, the used oil is subject to regulation prior to mixing.
  • Farmers who generate an average of 25 gallons per month or less of used oil in a calendar year from vehicles or machinery used on the farm are not subject to the requirements of this part. As long as this threshold is not exceeded, the farmer remains exempt from Part 279. Similar to household DIYs, used oil generated by these farmers becomes subject to Part 279 regulation when collected at a used oil collection center.

Note that there is no such thing as a small quantity used oil generator. Thus, no need exists for a generator to measure the quantities of used oil collected and stored each month. [57 FR 41585]

Used oil generator standards

Figure 1 shows the issues that generators of used oil must address in terms of management requirements. As referenced in these two logic diagrams, most of the management standards applicable to used oil generators are codified within Subpart C to Part 279. Additional requirements are applied to generators via references to other Part 279 subparts, other RCRA regulations, and CWA rules.

A useful document for reviewing a generator’s compliance with the used oil regulatory requirements is Protocol for Conducting Environmental Compliance Audits of Used Oil and Universal Waste Generators Under RCRA, EPA/300/B-00/002, March 2000, available at http://infohouse.p2ric.org/ref/14/13639.pdf.

Figure 1a Figure 1b

Used oil storage

The used oil management standards for generators address storage in three primary categories of units: 1) containers and aboveground tanks, 2) underground storage tanks (USTs), and 3) other units.

Containers and aboveground tanks

The wording in §279.22(a) could be misinterpreted, requiring containers and tanks storing used oil to comply with Part 264/265, Subparts I and J, respectively. This was not EPA’s intent; used oil storage containers and tanks need not comply with those requirements unless the used oil has been mixed with hazardous waste. [RO 14118] Instead, such storage units must meet the following.

According to §279.22(b–c), containers and aboveground tanks used to store used oil must 1) be in good condition with no severe rust, structural defects, or deterioration; 2) have no visible leaks; and 3) be labeled clearly with the words “Used Oil.” Our experience indicates that the number one source of noncompliance with the used oil regulations is facilities forgetting to label their containers with the words “Used Oil.”

We get asked questions about small-capacity containers of used oil such as buckets and drip pans. Our experience indicates that buckets used to store used oil should meet the above requirements including labeling with “Used Oil.” Drip pans, which are often very shallow and are used to catch drips of oil from equipment, are usually not considered used oil storage containers subject to the above, but that call is somewhat dependent on how long the used oil remains in the pan and is up to the enforcement discretion of the state inspector.

Should a release to the environment from a container or an aboveground storage tank occur, the owner/operator must 1) stop the release; 2) contain the released used oil; 3) clean up any released used oil and other materials; and 4) if necessary, repair or replace any leaking storage container or tank prior to placing it back into service. A notice of violation will likely result if a facility fails to promptly clean up even a small leak (e.g., from a used oil storage tank) or if oil-soaked absorbent material used to contain prior releases is still on the floor. According to EPA guidance, these requirements would not apply to releases within contained areas, such as concrete floors or impervious containment areas. However, facilities would normally clean up such spills as a matter of good housekeeping practices; in any event, they would be obligated to clean up contained spills or leaks before they reach the environment. [September 10, 1992; 57 FR 41586, RO 14339]

Used oil generators are also required to report a release of hazardous substances to the environment under other environmental programs. Releases of used oil that is contaminated with CERCLA hazardous substances (e.g., lead) must be reported to the National Response Center (NRC) if the reportable quantity (RQ) of the contaminating substance is released within a 24-hr period. [§302.6(a)] Additionally, the Clean Water Act requires facilities to report certain oil spills. Discharges of oil to navigable waters or adjoining shorelines must be reported immediately to the NRC if they: 1) violate applicable water-quality standards, 2) cause a film or “sheen” on the surface of the water or adjoining shorelines, or 3) cause a sludge or emulsion to be deposited beneath the surface of the water or upon adjoining shorelines. [40 CFR 110.3, 110.6] Finally, a discharge must be reported to the EPA regional administrator and appropriate state agency when there is a discharge of:

  • More than 1,000 gallons of oil in a single discharge to navigable waters or adjoining shorelines, or
  • More than 42 gallons of oil in each of two discharges to navigable waters or adjoining shorelines occurring within any 12-month period. [40 CFR 112.4]

When determining the applicability of this SPCC reporting requirement, the gallon amount specified (either 1,000 or 42) refers to the amount of oil that actually reaches navigable waters or adjoining shorelines, not the total amount of oil spilled. [Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) Regulation, 40 CFR Part 112—A Facility Owner/Operator’s Guide to Oil Pollution Prevention, EPA/540/K-09/001, June 2010, available at http://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/documents/spccbluebroch.pdf]

Besides the common-sense requirements noted above, owners/operators using containers and aboveground tanks for oil storage may also be required to prepare and follow an SPCC plan for these units. See below for more details.

Finally, it is interesting to note what requirements are not imposed on container and aboveground tank storage of used oil by Part 279. First, because EPA views used oil as a marketable commodity and wants to encourage its recycle and reuse, there is no accumulation time limit and no limit on the quantity of used oil that may be stored. [EPA/530/K-02/025I, RO 14739] Also, there are no secondary containment, inspection, or closure requirements (although one or more of these may be imposed under SPCC plans). Finally, used oil generators are not required to obtain EPA ID numbers.

USTs

EPA believes that storage of used oil in USTs poses similar risks to the underground storage of gasoline and other petroleum products. Thus, the agency requires underground used oil storage tanks to meet the requirements of 40 CFR Part 280, which apply to USTs managing CERCLA hazardous substances and petroleum products. Additionally, fill pipes associated with USTs storing used oil must be labeled with the words “Used Oil.” [§279.22(c)(2)]

While a complete review of Part 280 requirements is beyond the scope of this text, these provisions are comparable in many respects to Part 264/265, Subpart J requirements for hazardous waste storage tanks. These include design and management standards, corrosion protection, leak detection, spill response and notification, and closure plans. Thus, used oil storage in USTs may be more involved compared to the requirements for storage in containers and aboveground tanks.

There is an exemption from Part 280 requirements, however, for certain USTs storing used oil. That exemption is for the underground storage of used oil that is being utilized as heating oil to fire heating equipment, boilers, or furnaces. Based on §280.12, a tank used for storing heating oil for consumptive use on the premises where stored does not meet the “UST” definition and so is not subject to the Part 280 requirements. “Heating oil” is also defined in §280.12 and includes “other fuels when used as substitutes for one of these fuel oils.” Used oil that is burned in heating equipment, boilers, or furnaces would meet this “heating oil” definition. Thus, USTs used to store used oil that is consumed onsite as a substitute for fuel oil (e.g., burned in an onsite space heater) are excluded from Part 280 requirements; conversely, USTs that store used oil awaiting recycling pickup are not heating oil tanks and are not excluded. [September 23, 1988; 53 FR 37117]

Other units

Regarding the storage of used oil in units other than tanks and containers, EPA noted:

“Storage of used oil in lagoons, pits, or surface impoundments is prohibited, unless the generator is storing only wastewaters containing de minimis quantities of used oil, or unless the unit is in full compliance with 40 CFR Part 264/265, Subpart K.” [57 FR 41586]

In other words, the agency will allow the storage of used oil in alternate units only if they meet stringent Subtitle C RCRA requirements for hazardous waste management units.

SPCC plans

As part of the CWA regulations, SPCC requirements, which are spelled out in 40 CFR Part 112, apply to facilities that manage oil (including petroleum, fuel oil, and used oil) and are designed to prevent discharges to navigable waters. All facilities handling oil must prepare a plan if they are located in an area where a release to a navigable waterway could be expected and they:

  • Have an underground oil storage capacity of more than 42,000 gallons; or
  • Have a container and aboveground tank oil storage capacity of more than 1,320 gallons. When determining aboveground storage capacity, only containers of oil with a capacity of >55 gallons are counted.

SPCC plan requirements are quite extensive, so we won’t try to cover them in detail here. To summarize, they include tank and piping design, construction, and inspection requirements; secondary containment requirements; personnel training provisions; unit security and vehicle control requirements; storm water diversion and control requirements; contingency planning; and emergency response and notification procedures. Besides the regulations themselves, a good reference document for more detail on SPCC plans is EPA/540/K-09/001, cited earlier.

Offsite shipments

Part 279 rules governing the offsite transportation of used oil are very simple: “generators must ensure that their used oil is transported only by transporters who have obtained EPA identification numbers.” [§279.24] When the transporter comes to the generator’s facility to pick up the used oil, no manifest is required. EPA believes that the information maintained by used oil transporters will be sufficient to track used oil shipments without the need for a manifest. [57 FR 41587]

The Part 279 regs provide three alternatives to using a used oil transporter with an EPA ID number. First, used oil generators may self-transport small amounts of used oil offsite to used oil collection centers, without first obtaining an EPA ID number, provided:

  • No more than 55 gallons of used oil is transported at any one time;
  • The used oil is transported in a vehicle owned by the generator or one of its employees; and
  • The used oil is transported to a used oil collection center that is registered, licensed, permitted, or otherwise recognized/allowed to manage used oil by a state, county, or municipal government.

This option allows generators of small quantities of used oil and generators who have several, separate generation points (each producing small quantities of used oil) to recycle their used oil without significant cost. A typical application is given in Case Study 1. Note that used oil collection centers must use used oil transporters with EPA ID numbers when shipping the collected used oil offsite for recycling.

Case Study 1

A second option allows generators to self-transport small amounts of used oil without an EPA ID number to an aggregation point. Again, no more than 55 gallons of used oil may be transported at any one time and a generator- or generator employee-owned vehicle must be used. Most importantly, the generating facility and the aggregation point must have the same owner. Again, the aggregation point would have to use a transporter with an EPA ID number to ship collected used oil offsite.

Under the third option, a generator may arrange for used oil transportation offsite by a transporter without an EPA ID number if the used oil is to be reclaimed and eventually returned to the generator for reuse as a lubricant, cutting oil, or coolant. The reclaiming arrangement must be spelled out in a contractual tolling agreement that indicates 1) the type of used oil involved and the frequency of the offsite shipments, 2) that the reclaimed oil will be returned to the generator, and 3) that the vehicles used to transport the used oil to the processor and the reclaimed oil back to the generator are owned by the processor.

Note that the above discussion is for offsite shipments of used oil. Onsite movement of used oil is not subject to either §279.24 or to the Part 279, Subpart E used oil transporter and transfer facility standards. [RO 11762]

Other generator operations

Used oil generators may manage used oil in ways other than simple storage and offsite shipment to a processor. Such operations include used oil processing, burning for energy recovery, and disposal. However, processing, burning, and/or disposal of used oil will subject the generator to more-stringent standards in Part 279. In addition, used oil generators may ship their oil directly to used oil burners. In this case, the generator would also be subject to requirements applicable to used oil fuel marketers, which are contained in Part 279, Subpart H.

A facility sometimes hires a contractor to conduct activities that generate used oil instead of using its own personnel. In such a situation, both entities are cogenerators of the used oil. An example of used oil activities conducted by contractor personnel is given in Case Study 2.

Case Study 2

No recordkeeping required

No specific tracking or recordkeeping are required in the used oil generator standards. [EPA/530/H-98/001] When the agency issued the Part 279 standards, it noted:

“EPA has determined that information maintained by used oil transporters will provide sufficient records of used oil transport activities without burdening used oil generators with additional tracking requirements. Information collected when accepting used oil shipments, such as quantities and type of used oil collected, the name and location of used oil generators, and analytical data for the rebuttable presumption, would be maintained by the used oil collectors/transporters as part of the recordkeeping requirements…. Using this information maintained by used oil transporters, the agency can track a used oil generator, if needed. Therefore, the agency has eliminated the…tracking requirements for used oil generators.” [September 10, 1992; 57 FR 41587]

The agency noted in that same preamble, however, that “EPA believes that used oil generators maintain used oil collection and shipment records as standard business information.” [57 FR 41587]

Generators: don’t process the oil you generate

Just as facilities that generate and accumulate hazardous waste can avoid many of the more-stringent RCRA requirements by not treating their waste, used oil generators should avoid processing their oil lest they face the tough provisions for processors and re-refiners in Part 279, Subpart F. EPA defines used oil processing in §279.1 as:

“[C]hemical or physical operations designed to produce from used oil, or to make used oil more amenable for production of, fuel oils, lubricants, or other used oil-derived product. Processing includes, but is not limited to: blending used oil with virgin petroleum products, blending used oils to meet the fuel specification, filtration, simple distillation, chemical or physical separation, and re-refining.”

If a generator does something to its used oil to make it more amenable for someone else to take and burn for energy recovery, that’s “processing” subject to the Subpart F requirements. For example, a generator that blends off-spec used oil with fuel oil to meet the specification is a processor. [RO 14110]

There are a few specific things that a used oil generator can do to its used oil and remain just a generator. The following four activities are not considered processing [§279.20(b)(2)(ii)], provided the used oil is generated onsite and, after the activity, is not sent directly to an offsite used oil burner:

  1. Filtering, cleaning, separating, or otherwise reconditioning used oil before reusing it onsite, including burning it in a space heater pursuant to §279.23—For example, onsite maintenance and reconditioning activities designed to extend the life of used oil are not considered processing. [March 4, 1994; 59 FR 10555] A typical example is filtering contaminants from used metal-working fluids and then recycling the fluids back into machining, grinding, and/or boring operations; such reconditioning is not considered processing. [59 FR 10556, RO 11783, 14055] Additionally, the removal of CFCs and/or HCFCs from drained compressor oil (so that an owner/operator can take advantage of the exemption from the rebuttable presumption) is not processing. [RO 11850, 14051] Finally, filtering off-specification used oil for subsequent burning for energy recovery in an onsite industrial furnace is also not processing. (Had the filtered used oil been shipped offsite for burning, the generator would have been subject to Subpart F processor requirements.) [RO 13666]
  2. Separating used oil from wastewater generated onsite to make the wastewater acceptable for discharge under an NPDES permit or POTW pretreatment standards—The separation of used oil from wastewater can also be accomplished to recover the used oil for reuse. [59 FR 10556, RO 11783, 11818] For example, recovery of metal-working fluids from a facility’s wastewater treatment system for onsite recycling is not processing. This activity is incidental or ancillary to normal manufacturing operations (i.e., used oil processing is not the facility’s primary purpose). [RO 11792] Note that entities conducting oil-water separation on wastewater that is received from offsite would be considered used oil processors. [59 FR 10557, RO 11818]
  3. Using oil-mist collectors to remove small droplets of used oil from plant air systems.
  4. Draining or otherwise removing used oil from used oil-contaminated materials—Removing or separating used oil from materials, such as draining used oil from non-terne-plated filters or separating used oil from sorbent materials is not processing. [May 3, 1993; 58 FR 26421, RO 11874] In another situation, onsite dewatering of used oil-based coolant so that the coolant can then be sent to an offsite re-refiner or fuel blender (but not directly to an offsite burner) is not processing. [RO 13757] Wringing out a rag or absorbent pad that contains used oil is not processing.

As noted above, these four activities are not considered processing as long as any used oil produced is not sent directly to an offsite used oil burner. Additionally, such produced used oil can be burned onsite without triggering processor requirements. EPA noted that it:

“[I]s allowing onsite but not offsite burning of used oil generated from designated onsite activities because the agency believes that this approach best enables EPA to strike a reasonable balance between encouraging beneficial onsite reuse and recycling activities that should pose very limited risks, on one hand, and ensuring that activities undertaken primarily to make used oil more amenable for burning (i.e., used oil processing) are adequately controlled under the more-stringent used oil processing standards.” [59 FR 10556; see also RO 11874, 13666]

Mixing used oil generated onsite with diesel fuel for use in a generator’s own vehicles as fuel is also excluded from the processor standards. [EPA/530/K-02/025I]

What additional requirements does a processor of used oil face versus a simple generator? Processors must have an EPA ID number and implement preparedness and prevention plans to prevent and respond to fires, explosions, spills, and other incidents. They must provide secondary containment for containers and tanks used to store used oil, and they must meet closure requirements for tanks and containers upon cessation of operations. An analysis plan must be prepared and followed to determine compliance with the used oil fuel specification and to ensure their compliance with the rebuttable presumption. Finally, used oil processors must track their receipts and shipments of used oil, maintain a written operating record for their facility, and report annually to EPA on their activities.

Used oil disposal

Subpart I to Part 279 details requirements for generators (and others) who dispose used oil. First of all, EPA will allow the use of used oil as a dust suppressant only in those states that successfully petition the agency under the terms of §279.82(b). As of September 2018, no such petitions have been approved.

Aside from the dust suppressant issue, used oil that will be disposed rather than recycled is a solid waste. Therefore, before a facility may dispose used oil, it must first determine whether that material is a RCRA hazardous waste. Used oil is a hazardous waste if it 1) exhibits a hazardous waste characteristic (by its own nature or by mixing characteristically hazardous waste into it), 2) has been mixed with ICR-only listed wastes and continues to exhibit a characteristic, 3) has been mixed with non-ICR-only listed hazardous waste (other than listed waste generated by very small quantity generators), or 4) contains greater than 1,000-ppm total halogens and the presumption that it has been mixed with hazardous waste cannot be rebutted.

Hazardous used oil that will be disposed (i.e., it will not be recycled) must be managed in accordance with the hazardous waste management requirements of Parts 260–266, 268, and 270. Such used oil will typically be burned in a RCRA-permitted hazardous waste incinerator.

Used oils that are not RCRA hazardous and cannot be recycled must be disposed per the terms of 40 CFR Parts 257 and 258.


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Considerable care has been exercised in preparing this document; however, McCoy and Associates, Inc. makes no representation, warranty, or guarantee in connection with the publication of this information. McCoy and Associates, Inc. expressly disclaims any liability or responsibility for loss or damage resulting from its use or for the violation of any federal, state, or municipal law or regulation with which this information may conflict. McCoy and Associates, Inc. does not undertake any duty to ensure the continued accuracy of this information.

This document addresses issues of a general nature related to the federal RCRA regulations. Persons evaluating specific circumstances dealing with the RCRA regulations should review state and local laws and regulations, which may be more stringent than federal requirements. In addition, the assistance of a qualified professional should be enlisted to address any site-specific circumstances.