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Crude Oil and Natural Gas Waste
Wastes generated during the exploration, development, and production of crude oil, natural gas, and geothermal energy are categorized by EPA as "special wastes" and are exempt from federal hazardous waste regulations under Subtitle C of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).
This Web page provides an outline of the legislative and regulatory history of this exemption, as well as links to key regulatory and technical documents.
- Legislative and Regulatory Timeline
- Public Docket for Oil and Gas Exploration and Production Waste Exemption
- Supporting Technical Documents
- State Reviews
- Related Programs and Resources
- Spent Oil Shale
Legislative and Regulatory Timeline (Oil and Gas Exploration and Production Waste Exemption, Bentsen Amendment)
You will need Adobe Reader to view some of the files on this page. See EPA's PDF page to learn more.
- December 2008 EPA clarifies the regulatory status of spent oil shale generated by above ground retorting or heating of oil shale.
- October 2002EPA issues the publication, Exemption of Oil and Gas Exploration and Production Wastes from Federal Hazardous Waste Regulations (PDF) (40 pp, 913K) | en Español (PDF) (40 pp, 424K). This document provides an understanding of the exemption of certain oil and gas exploration and production (E&P) wastes from regulation as hazardous wastes under RCRA Subtitle C. The document includes background on the E&P exemption, basic rules for determining the exempt or non-exempt status of wastes, examples of exempt and non-exempt wastes, the status of E&P waste mixtures, and clarifications of several misunderstandings about the exemption.
- March 22, 1993EPA issues a Clarification of the Regulatory Determination for Wastes from the Exploration, Development and Production of Crude Oil, Natural Gas and Geothermal Energy, March 22, 1993 (58 FR 15284) (PDF) (11 pp, 21K) | Text Version (text file) (27K) which clarifies the regulatory status of wastes generated by the crude oil reclamation industry, service companies, gas plants and feeder pipelines, and crude oil pipelines. EPA only provides further clarification on the status of these wastes under the exemption and does not alter the scope of the original exemption in any way.
- July 6, 1988EPA issues its Regulatory Determination for Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Exploration, Development and Production Wastes, July 6, 1988 (53 FR 25466) (PDF) (39 pp, 68 K) | Text Version (text file) which states that EPA believes that regulation of oil and gas exploration and production wastes under RCRA Subtitle C is not warranted. Instead, EPA plans to implement a three-pronged strategy to address the issues posed by these wastes by improving federal programs under existing authorities in Subtitle D of RCRA, the Clean Water Act, and Safe Drinking Water Act; working with states to encourage changes and improvements in their regulations and enforcement; and working with Congress to develop any additional statutory authorities that may be required.
- December 1987EPA submits a three-volume Report to Congress vol 1 (PDF) (373 pp, 12 mb), vol 2 (PDF) (154 pp, 4.5 mb), vol 3 (PDF) (360 pp, 11 mb) on the Management of Waste from the Exploration, Development, and Production of Crude Oil, Natural Gas, and Geothermal Energy (EPA530-SW-88-003a,b,c).
- April 1987The deadline for submission is extended to December 31, 1987.
- August 1985The Alaska Center for the Environment sues EPA for its failure to conduct the required study and submit its findings to Congress. EPA enters into a consent order obligating it to complete and submit the Report to Congress by August 31, 1987.
- October 31, 1982EPA misses the statutory deadline for submitting the oil and gas exploration and production wastes Report to Congress.
- October 12, 1980Congress enacts the Solid Waste Disposal Act Amendments of 1980 (Public Law 96-482) which amends RCRA. Among the amendments, Section 3001(b)(2)(A)frequently referred to as the Bentsen Amendmenttemporarily exempts "drilling fluids, produced waters, and other wastes associated with the exploration, development, and production of crude oil or natural gas." At the same time, Section 8002(m) requires EPA to study these wastes and submit a Report to Congress evaluating the status of their management and potential risk to human health and the environment by October 1982. EPA is also required to make a regulatory determination (within six months of the completing the Report to Congress) as to whether these wastes warrant regulation under RCRA Subtitle C or some other set of regulations.
- December 18, 1978EPA publishes the first set of proposed hazardous waste management standards in the Federal Register (43 FR 58946). This FR notice includes a proposal to exempt six categories of "special wastes" from the RCRA Subtitle C regulations until further study can be completed. "Oil and gas drilling muds and oil production brines" are included as one of the six special wastes.
- October 21, 1976Congress passes the Resources Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) (Public Law 94-580) which requires EPA to develop regulations governing the identification and management of hazardous waste.
Dockets contain all publicly available materials used in the development of regulations, such as Federal Register notices and rules, supporting analyses, technical background documents, and comments submitted by the public on Agency reports and rulemakings. EPA dockets are available electronically at Regulations.gov.
To use Regulations.gov:
- Select Docket Search.
- Select "Environmental Protection Agency" from the Agency drop-down menu.
- In the Docket ID Box, type in the DOCKET ID number (EPA-HQ-RCRA-1988-0068 or EPA-HQ-RCRA-1988-0069) and then click the "Submit" button to receive your search results. Be patient; loading the documents can take several minutes.
- The docket should appear with the docket ID number (e.g., EPA-HQ-RCRA-1988-0068, EPA-HQ-RCRA-1988-0069).
The Docket ID numbers for the Oil and Gas Exploration and Production Waste Exemption are:
- Report to Congress: EPA-HQ-RCRA-1988-0068
- Regulatory Determination: EPA-HQ-RCRA-1988-0069
Supporting Technical Documents
Associated Waste Reports (January 2000)
This series of reports provides EPA's findings and understanding of associated oil and gas exploration and production wastes, including the means by which they are generated and the methods used for their management and disposal.
EPA's Office of Compliance Assistance Oil and Gas Extraction Industry Profile (PDF) (165 pp, 1.5MB, About PDF)
This 1999 publication contains a wealth of information on the oil and gas extraction industry including a comprehensive environmental profile; industrial process information; pollution prevention techniques; regulatory requirements; compliance and enforcement history; and additional resources.
State Review of Oil and Gas Environmental Regulations (STRONGER)
STRONGER is a non-profit, multi-stakeholder organization whose purpose is to assist states in documenting the environmental regulations associated with the exploration, development, and production of crude oil and natural gas. Reports of the reviews are available from STRONGER and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC) .
Related Programs and Resources
Oil Field Waste Pits: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Region 6 Program
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Region 6 oil field waste pits program examines the problems with, and solutions to, oil field waste pits in Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, and Kansas.
EPA's Office of Water
EPA's Office of Water (OW) is responsible for implementing the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act to protect human health and water quality.
For additional information, see:
- Effluent Guidelines for Oil & Gas Extraction
EPA published final regulations on February 21, 2001, establishing technology-based effluent limitations guidelines and standards for the discharge of synthetic-based drilling fluids (SBFs) and other non-aqueous drilling fluids from oil and gas drilling operations into waters of the U.S. This Web page provide links to the final and proposed rules, as well as supporting documentation and guidance.
- Underground Injection Control (UIC) Program
The UIC Program works with state and local governments to oversee underground injection of waste in order to prevent contamination of drinking water resources.
EPA's Oil Program
This Web site provides information about EPA's program for preventing, preparing for, and responding to oil spills that occur in and around inland waters of the U.S.
- See also: EPA's Used Oil Management Program
U.S. Department of Energy Drilling Waste Management Information System
The Drilling Waste Management Information System is an online resource for technical and regulatory information on practices for managing drilling muds and cuttings, including current practices, state and federal regulations, guidelines for optimal management practices, and case studies for successful applications.
U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Fossil Energy
The mission of DOE's Office of Fossil Energy is the promotion and development of a new generation of environmentally-sound energy technologies.
- See also: Fossil Energy R&D Project Data Base