May 10, 2019

EPA Reviews Oil and Gas E&P Waste Regulations

The RCRA statute requires EPA to perform a periodic review of its implementing regulations. A 2016 lawsuit filed by environmental interest groups resulted in a consent decree that required the agency to determine whether revisions to the RCRA Subtitle D solid waste regulations are necessary for the management of wastes generated during the oil and natural gas exploration and production (E&P) activities. In April 2019, EPA released its review of E&P wastes, concluding that no new regulations are necessary for managing these wastes under RCRA Subtitle D. Instead, existing state regulations and best management practices are sufficient to ensure that these wastes are managed in a manner that is protective of human health and the environment. The 279-page document provides a current, substantial review of the E&P exclusion and the types of wastes that are covered under the exclusion.

What Are E&P Wastes?

E&P wastes are wastes uniquely associated with the exploration, development, or production of crude oil, natural gas, or geothermal energy. From a RCRA perspective, these wastes could otherwise be hazardous due to flash point (D001), benzene content (D018), or some other characteristic. However, due to the large quantities of these wastes and their relatively low degree of “hazardousness,” they enjoy an exclusion from the definition of hazardous waste in §261.4(b)(5). Examples of these excluded wastes include, but are not limited to:

Are E&P-Excluded Wastes Regulated?

Most states have their own specific regulations for managing E&P wastes. For example, the Railroad Commission of Texas specifies a series of compliance requirements, including:

In light of the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) boom, many states have been developing and/or updating their regulations for managing wastes generated from these activities.

In addition to state regulatory issues, Bureau of Land Management regulations may impact E&P activities on federal land.

Best Management Practices

EPA recommends that regardless of state regulations, any facility managing E&P wastes should employ best management practices (BMPs). The agency has compiled an extensive list of BMPs from not only industry sources but also universities, environmental interest groups, investment groups, and state agencies.


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This document addresses issues of a general nature related to the federal environmental regulations. Persons evaluating specific circumstances dealing with the environmental 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.