Oil and Gas Exploration and Production Waste Management

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September 8, 2022, Stakeholder Workshop

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November 17, 2021, Stakeholder Meeting

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What Has Changed?

For many years, the Division of Oil, Gas, and Mining (DOGM) at the Utah Department of Natural Resources, provided regulatory oversight of wastes generated from the exploration and production (E&P) of crude oil and natural gas throughout the State. With DOGM’s oversight, these wastes were formerly excluded from the Solid and Hazardous Waste Act, which is administered by the Division of Waste Management and Radiation Control (DWMRC). However, in 2019, the Utah Legislature made important changes to the Solid and Hazardous Waste Act in response to a U.S. EPA requirement for state solid waste programs to have primary responsibility for management of E&P wastes.

These changes are not limited to Utah and, as in other states, affect how E&P waste management facilities are to be regulated.  DWMRC and DOGM have been working together to determine what changes will be necessary. The two agencies developed a draft outline of the expected changes.

Time is necessary to develop and implement the administrative changes needed to ensure that E&P waste management practices meet the requirements of the U.S. EPA and what is best for Utah. Time may also be needed for waste facilities to make changes that will be necessary to meet the requirements. In brief, we expect the following:

  • DOGM will continue to regulate some E&P wastes. These will include produced water and other waste liquids acceptable for underground injection or treatment in evaporation ponds, and reserve pits. Waste-like materials that are reused/recycled in a way that does not constitute disposal will continue to be regulated by DOGM as well.
  • For facilities that will continue under programs administered by DOGM, some approval actions will include DWMRC, so facilities should expect to hear from us once in a while.
  • DWMRC will begin shaping rules and practices surrounding all other E&P waste management, including actions for landfarms and landfills. Some practices are likely to change significantly, such as closure requirements.
  • DWMRC will engage in outreach with E&P waste management companies throughout Utah. We value the experience of individuals that have been managing these wastes. We invite you to help facilitate this process by sharing your insight, questions, and concerns.

Q & A

Are E&P wastes hazardous?

Wastes generated from exploration and production of oil, gas, and geothermal energy often contain materials such as arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, and benzene, which may reach toxic levels that would be considered hazardous under certain circumstances. However, certain E&P wastes are exempt from the hazardous waste management requirements found in Subtitle C of the U.S. Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), and they maintain a hazardous waste management exemption in Utah. When wastes meet the exemption they may be managed according to nonhazardous solid waste rules.

What does RCRA-exempt mean?

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) provides the federal law for the management of waste. It contains hazardous waste requirements in Subtitle C and nonhazardous waste requirements in Subtitle D. The term “RCRA-exempt” is sometimes used to mean that a waste is exempt from the hazardous waste requirements of Subtitle C. This is true for certain E&P wastes. However, E&P wastes are not exempt from RCRA Subtitle D requirements. It is important to remember that these wastes must be managed in a way that is protective of the environment. Like other states, Utah is authorized by the U.S. EPA to enforce RCRA, and is required to be at least as stringent in our management practices.

Which oil and gas industry wastes are exempt from management as hazardous wastes?

The determination of what is exempt is dependent upon the process from which the waste was generated. Only wastes which are uniquely associated with exploration and production are exempt from the hazardous waste management requirements. This does not include all wastes supporting the oil and gas industry; it is only those that are unique to an exploration or production process.

For example, production tank scale or bottoms are unique to the production process and would be exempt waste, but if a solvent that is ignitable or contains hazardous constituents is used to remove tank scale or bottoms, the resulting slurry needs to be evaluated to determine whether it is hazardous because the process of cleaning the tank is not an exploration or production process.

For additional information and examples, see EPA document 530-K-01-004, Exemption of Oil and Gas Exploration and Production Wastes from Federal Hazardous Waste Regulations.

If a waste is not exempt from hazardous waste rules, then what?

If a waste was not generated as the result of a process that is exempt from the hazardous waste rules, a hazardous waste determination needs to be made according to Section R315-261 of the Utah Administrative Code. If the waste is characterized as hazardous, it will need to be disposed of at a hazardous waste disposal facility. All wastes that are not characterized as hazardous are managed according to the solid waste rules.

What about spill cleanups?

If the material spilled is an E&P waste that carries an exemption, then it may be cleaned up and disposed of outside of the hazardous waste management requirements. If it is a spill of a material that is not exempt or if it was not a waste until it spilled, such as crude oil or unused drill fluid, a hazardous waste determination needs to be made according to Section R315-261 of the Utah Administrative Code. If the waste is characterized as hazardous, it will need to be managed at a hazardous waste disposal facility. All wastes that are not characterized as hazardous are managed according to the solid waste rules.

Will there be any rules about TENORM?

Radon and other naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM) may exist in some formations where oil and gas production occurs. When materials are concentrated and brought to the surface during exploration and production, such radioactive material falls into a category called technologically-enhanced naturally occurring radioactive material (TENORM).

Radioactive material is routinely regulated under a different set of rules than solid and hazardous wastes. Health concerns are increasing nation-wide about TENORM, and many states have promulgated specific waste management rules for these materials based on model regulations found in Part N of the Suggested State Regulations for the Control of Radiation.

While the Utah Waste Management and Radiation Control Board (Board) has not yet adopted Part N governing management standards for TENORM, it should be noted that existing Radiation Control rules may require a license to possess or manage certain radioactive materials.  Moreover, the Board may adopt Part N in the future.

What is landfarming?

“Landfarming” is a term commonly used in Utah for an E&P waste management practice that primarily consists of spreading the waste over native soils or over the top of an older “lift” of disposed waste. Under the DOGM landfarming program, the intent is to treat the impacted soils until certain constituent concentrations reach levels established in its administrative policy.  

There are many other terms for spreading waste over the land, such as “land application,” “land treatment,” and “land spreading,” to name a few. As practiced in Utah, landfarmed wastes remain almost exclusively in place permanently. Many organic compounds may be reduced due to volatilization and biodegradation, but chlorides and many inorganic constituents found in these wastes are not readily remediated to background or native levels. Rain and snow that fall on the landfarm may leach toxic metals from the waste and may end up in the groundwater. Careful study of the geology and hydrogeology, and appropriate design measures are necessary to prevent harm to the environment.

Will landfarming continue in Utah?

Under the draft outline, DOGM will discontinue its landfarming program for E&P wastes.  This situation leads to the question of whether DWMRC will continue to permit the landfarming of E&P wastes. Solid waste management standards are developed based on those provided by the U.S. EPA, state needs, scientific evidence of environmental effects, and best practices. The U.S. EPA has not provided any standards for land application of E&P wastes. Under Section R315-307 of the Utah Administrative Rules, standards are provided for land application of wastes that have an agronomic benefit. Since E&P wastes do not provide an agronomic benefit, and are usually high in chloride content, they will not be managed according to those standards.

Several other states throughout the U.S. have developed E&P waste management regulations, and many have found a need for standards that are more robust than Utah’s. Representatives of the Director are reviewing many rules from other states as we develop standards. It appears that approximately half of the states with oil and gas production have some land application standards, but we have found that those standards are typically more restrictive, and many of them follow methods that are very different from the landfarming methods currently in practice in Utah.

The Director’s representatives will continue research to develop standards that are protective of human health and the environment. This will include study of land application and beneficial uses (wastes put to an alternate use), but it is unclear at this time which practices will be approved in the future. As standards are developed, the Director’s representatives will conduct outreach activities and be receptive to ideas and questions from the oil and gas industry. In addition, time to implement any necessary changes will be considered as rules are established. Landfilling E&P waste is also currently an option in Utah, and some facilities have already been permitted to do so.

What protections do landfills offer for the environment?

Landfills are more protective of the environment than landfarming or beneficial uses (wastes put to an alternate use). Landfill standards often include lined cells, run-on/run-off controls, groundwater monitoring, leachate collection, final cover that includes permeability limitations and vegetative seeding, and post-closure monitoring. Such standards protect groundwater and provide a final closure that is not a visual blight and supports native vegetation.

If a landfarm converts to a landfill, what steps will be necessary?

Representatives of the Director are currently evaluating the process of issuing new landfill permits for existing landfarm operations. As part of this evaluation, we will consider what environmental protection standards are necessary. Analytical testing of soils may be important to determine appropriate action levels. Excavation and placement of existing materials into a lined landfill cell may be necessary for wastes that have certain leaching potential or high toxicity levels. We are in the very beginning stages of this evaluation and intend to conduct outreach as standards are drafted.

Will Legislative and Gubernatorial approval be required, and will a needs assessment need to be conducted for commercial waste facilities?

The Director interprets the commercial facility requirements in the Utah Solid and Hazardous Waste Act as not being applicable to operations in existence prior to May 16, 2019. In addition, the 2022 Utah Legislative Session includes Senate Bill 97, and if passed, it will eliminate these specific commercial facility requirements for facilities that only receive waste from the exploration and production of oil and gas. However, all operations will still need to meet the remaining requirements of the Solid and Hazardous Waste Act [Utah Code Title 19, Chapter 6, Part 1 (19-6-1)] and the Solid Waste Permitting and Management Rules [Utah Administrative Code R315-300 through 320].

When will rule and process changes occur?

We expect this process to be lengthy. Much research and organization is needed before process steps and regulatory standards can be drafted. We expect that there will be outreach and stakeholder meetings as part of this process. This web page will be used to notify individuals of upcoming meetings, and will be updated with draft documents and any decisions made. If you would like to be notified of these meetings, please click here, enter your contact information at the top, check the box next to “E&P Waste,” and click “Submit” at the bottom of the page to receive notifications.

Which agency regulates my facility during this time of change?

In many cases, both DOGM and DWMRC will be involved to some extent. For now, please contact the agency that currently permits your facility. We will share information as needed to make sure that your needs are addressed. We may not have final answers to every question, so we ask for your consideration as we strive to serve you the best with the information that we have.