Request for Comment:
Discharges via Direct Hydrologic Connection to Surface Water
EPA is requesting comment on the Agency’s previous statements interpreting the Clean Water Act (CWA) that discharges of pollutants from point sources to jurisdictional surface waters that occur via groundwater or other subsurface flow that has a direct hydrologic connection to the surface water are subject to CWA regulation. EPA is requesting comments on whether or not the Agency should consider clarification or revision of this interpretation and if so, comments on how clarification or revision should be provided.
Comments must be received on or before May 21, 2018.
Wastewater discharges from industrial and commercial sources may contain pollutants at levels that could affect the quality of receiving waters or interfere with publicly owned treatment works (POTWs) that receive those discharges. The NPDES permitting program establishes discharge limits and conditions for industrial and commercial sources with specific limitations based on the type of facility/activity generating the discharge.
Resources for discharge requirements based on the sector generating the discharge include:
- NPDES Permitting Framework – Framework for establishing water quality and technology-based NPDES permit limits.
- Effluent Limitations Guidelines and Standards – Federal technology-based requirements for discharges from more than 50 different categories of industrial and commercial activity.
- Additional industry-specific NPDES requirements to control discharges:
- National Pretreatment Program – Program to control non-domestic discharges from industrial and commercial sources into municipal sewer systems.
- Cooling Water Intake Structures – Requirements for facilities that use a cooling water intake structure to withdraw water from waters of the U.S. and that have, or will have, an NPDES permit.
- Controlling Stormwater Runoff
Mining operations are often complex undertakings that may be situated in or near diverse and sensitive environments. These operations generate tailings and waste rock for disposal and also create wastewater discharges and air emissions.
As a result, mining can affect surface and ground water quality, drinking water supplies and air quality. Impacts from operating as well as abandoned mines can cause extensive losses of aquatic and terrestrial habitat.
Mining has impacted thousands of miles of streams and rivers throughout the western U.S. due to active and historic mining of metallic ores (e.g., iron, copper, lead, zinc, molybdenum, tungsten) and precious metals (gold, platinum, and silver). Similarly, eastern U.S. watersheds are impacted by both active and abandoned coal mines after 150 years of mining activities.
These situations, combined with an increasing population, make mining issues a priority. Population growth has intensified the use of aquatic and riparian ecosystems for recreation, and increased the demand on aquifers for domestic water supply.
The Clean Water Act (CWA) requires all point source discharges from mining operations, including discharges from associated impoundments, be authorized under an NPDES permit. The NPDES program regulates discharges from three general categories of mining activities as well as the considerations associated with abandoned mines.
- Hardrock Mining (typically extracting metallic ores such as iron or copper)
- Non-Metals Mining and Processing (typically extracting and processing minerals such as gypsum or sand and gravel)
- Coal Mining (extracting coal from underground and surface mines)
- Abandoned Mine Lands – EPA policy and guidance on assessment and remediation of abandoned mind lands.
- Good Samaritan – EPA-wide initiative to accelerate restoration of watersheds and fisheries threatened by abandoned hard rock mine runoff. The effort encourages voluntary cleanups by parties that do not own the property and are not responsible for the property's environmental conditions.
- The Good Samaritan administrative Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) tools were issued on June 6, 2007. The tools are a model comfort letter and settlement agreement (an administrative order on consent or "AOC"). The Agency also issued a memorandum to EPA Regions in 2007, describing the purpose and intended use of the tools.
- On December 12, 2012, EPA issued a memorandum to its regional offices that encourages cleanup activities at hard rock abandoned mine sites. The memorandum is intended to reduce the perceived CWA legal vulnerability faced by "Good Samaritans" who want to clean up their communities. There are hundreds of thousands of abandoned mine sites across the nation and many pose serious health, safety, and environmental hazards. Many community organizations are looking at opportunities to clean up these sites. EPA's memorandum clarifies that these "Good Samaritans," or non-liable parties, who volunteer to clean up these abandoned sites are generally not responsible for obtaining a permit under the CWA both during and following a successful cleanup.
More information about the Good Samaritan Initiative:
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Guiding Principles to EPA Regions
- Model Settlement Agreement
- Model Comfort Status Letter
- Funding - EPA funding programs that relate to abandoned mines
- Contacts - EPA contacts on abandoned mine issues
Oil and Gas
Treatment and disposal of wastewater from shale gas extraction
Shale gas extraction produces large volumes of wastewater from hydraulic fracturing in addition to relatively small volumes of water from the formation (i.e., the geologic rock unit from which extraction is taking place). That wastewater can contain high concentrations of dissolved solids (salts), naturally occurring radionuclides, and metals, as well as other pollutants used in drilling and completion of wells.
- Natural Gas Drilling in the Marcellus Shale under the NPDES Program Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) and Shale Gas Extraction FAQs – March 17, 2011 memorandum and companion FAQs from James Hanlon, former Director of EPA’s Office of Wastewater Management to the EPA Regions to assist state and federal permitting authorities in addressing treatment and disposal of wastewater from shale gas extraction.
The FAQs discuss wastewater issues and pollutants associated with shale gas extraction and how existing regulations may be used to address them. For example, there are additional regulations that cover oil and gas extraction, centralized waste treatment, acceptance and notification requirements for publicly owned treatment works, pretreatment, and stormwater. These FAQs should assist EPA regional offices and states as they work with the regulated community to address shale gas extraction wastewater.
Natural Gas Extraction - Hydraulic Fracturing - Information about EPA's scientific and regulatory activities related to natural gas extraction and hydraulic fracturing.
Gulf of Mexico Oil and Gas NPDES Program
NPDES General Permit for the Western Gulf of Mexico Outer Continental Shelf - On September 19, 2017, EPA Region 6 reissued the NPDES general permit for the Western Gulf of Mexico Outer Continental Shelf (GMG900000). The general permit covers discharges from approximately 3,500 oil and gas extraction facilities located greater than 3 miles offshore of Louisiana and Texas. The permit becomes effective on October 1, 2017, and replaces the previous permit that was issued in 2012. Permittees covered by the previous version of the permit that expired on September 30, 2017, will be automatically covered by the reissued permit starting October 1, 2017, until April 1, 2018, but must submit an electronic Notice of Intent by April 1, 2018, to continue coverage past that date.
Western and Central Gulf of Mexico Offshore Oil and Gas NPDES Program - Information about NPDES general permits for offshore oil and gas in the central to western portions of the Gulf of Mexico. These general permits are managed under the jurisdiction of EPA Region 6.
Eastern Gulf of Mexico Offshore Oil and Gas NPDES Program - NPDES oil and gas permits issued by EPA for the eastern portion of the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) of the Gulf of Mexico. These permits are managed by EPA Region 4.