Oil and Gas Exploration and Production Waste Management

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 and have developed an outline of the expected changes. The outline was shared with stakeholders in November 2021, and became final in March 2023.

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 waste liquids acceptable for underground injection and waste-like materials that are reused/recycled in a way that does not constitute disposal.
  • DWMRC will begin shaping rules and practices surrounding all E&P waste management, including actions for landfarms, landfills, and evaporation disposal ponds (surface impoundments). 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’s regulations must be at least as stringent as the applicable federal laws.

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 from the practice of landfarming.

Will landfarming continue in Utah?

Under the DOGM – DWMRC E&P Waste 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 have reviewed rules from many other states while developing 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 conducted research to develop standards that are protective of human health and the environment. This included land application practices in Utah and other states. After much review, the three options that were presented in November 2021, and were finalized in the DOGM – DWMRC E&P Waste Outline are the best path forward to meet federal and state requirements for management of E&P wastes for the existing landfarming operations and for evaporation ponds.

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 detailed location standards, run-on/run-off controls, to prevent waste from migration outside of the permitted boundary, final cover that includes permeability limitations and vegetative seeding, and post-closure monitoring. Such standards prevent contamination 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?

A landfarm that converts to a landfill will do so according to the requirements of a new rule that is expected to be numbered R315-321. Additionally, as discussed in the DOGM – DWMRC E&P Waste Outline, part or all of an existing facility footprint may be closed under either DOGM rules while the DOGM rule is still effective, or DWMRC rules. DOGM is preparing to revoke the existing R649-9 and replace it, no longer providing for waste disposal. DWMRC has drafted rule language that will provide an opportunity to obtain a temporary permit for facilities that have not yet obtained a full DWMRC permit for the purposes of facilitating the owner’s or operator’s good faith transition from regulation under R649-9 to regulation under R315-321 or R315-322, provided that the director determines that a temporary permit is protective of human health and the environment.

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 introduced Senate Bill 97, which became effective on May 4, 2022, eliminating 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?

Both DOGM and DWMRC have prepared draft rules that were provided to stakeholders in mid-March of 2024. Both agencies anticipate completing formal rulemaking before the end of 2024. 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.

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