The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a decision last week stating that revisions to the federal regulations for the management of wastes from the exploration, development, and production of crude oil, natural gas, and geothermal energy (i.e. oil and gas wastes from hydraulic fracturing and directional drilling) are not necessary at this time. EPA was required to assess the current regulations under a Consent Decree entered into with EPA and seven environmental advocacy groups. The environmental groups had filed a federal lawsuit against EPA in 2016, in which they alleged that EPA was obligated to review and revise, if necessary, RCRA Subtitle D regulations and state plan requirements for oil and gas wastes.
In making its decision, EPA reviewed regulations of states that collectively account for 95% of the oil and gas production in the United States. EPA concluded that, while the oil and gas industry “has undergone a significant transformation in recent years” from the increased use of hydraulic fracturing and directional drilling, the states had also updated their regulatory programs in response to these new technological advancements. EPA also reviewed literature on the potential for adverse effects from the management of the oil and gas wastes, as well as data on recent environmental releases of these wastes, and concluded that existing state programs were sufficient to manage the oil and gas wastes in a manner that is protective of human health and the environment.
The environmental community is, unsurprisingly, not pleased with EPA’s decision. The Environmental Integrity Project, one of the environmental advocacy groups that filed the lawsuit in 2016, issued a statement that EPA’s determination has “left oil and gas wastes subject only to generic and outdated standards.” With the regulatory updates being made at the state level, however, EPA is confident that these wastes can be “appropriately and more readily addressed” within the scope of the existing state programs, which it stated are “robust.”