E & P Waste Classification

Regulatory Compliance

40 CFR 262.13 and 261.6(a)(3) list certain hazardous wastes that are not subject to RCRA regulation. If the hazardous waste that you handle has been exempted, then you do not need to notify the EPA for that hazardous waste.

40 CFR 261.4(b) (5) Solid wastes which are not hazardous wastes:

  • Drilling fluids
  • Produced waters
  • Other wastes associated with the exploration, development, or production of crude oil, natural gas or geothermal energy.
  • Other wastes: “These wastes include those that have been brought to the surface during oil and gas exploration and production operations, and other wastes that have come into contact with the Oil and Gas production stream (e.g., during removal of waters injected into the drill well to cool the drill bit).

Determination of anĀ  E&P Exempt Waste

A lack of understanding of E&P wastes and many of the waste streams exempted from Subtitle C of RCRA, appeared to be the basis of these incorrect and technically unsound opinions. It is important to remember, as explained by EPA, the exempt status of an E&P waste was dependent on the nature of how the waste was used or generated and not on whether the waste was hazardous or toxic. For example, crude oil can contain up to 1% benzene, which is equal to 10,000 parts per million (ppm) or 10,000,000 parts per billion (ppb) (Burdick et al., 1993). Produced water contains crude oil and many other down-hole materials. Produced water facilities, also recovered crude oil from the produced water – a valuable product recovery and waste minimization function.

EPA’S Sensible E&P Waste Exemption Document

A quick and easy way to provide an opinion as to the determination of the exempt status of an E&P waste is to simply use the following EPA document and look-up the E&P waste of interest on pages 10 and 11:

  • U.S. EPA, Office of Solid Waste, Exemption of Oil and Gas Exploration and Production (E&P) wastes from RCRA Subtitle C hazardous Waste Regulation, EPA530-K-01-004, 2002.

Rule of Thumb Questions for E&P Waste Exemption

Oil-field produced water is an E&P waste that is exempt from Subtitle C of RCRA. A simple set of questions can be used to determine if an E&P waste is exempt from Subtitle C of RCRA. This set of questions is often referred to as a “rule of thumb” in the oil field regulatory compliance division of E&P producers and regulators and can be applied to an E&P waste in question:

  • Was the waste generated “down-hole” and was it brought to the ground surface during Oil and Gas E&P operations?
  • Was the waste generated by contact with oil and gas production streams during the removal of the oil-field produced water or other contaminants from the product?
  • Was the waste uniquely associated to waste from Oil and Gas E&P operations?

If the answer is yes to any of the questions above, then the waste was exempt from RCRA Subtitle C regulations.

Crude Oil Recovery

To avoid further confusion on E&P wastes generated during crude oil recovery and reclamation (a specialized form of waste treatment to recover a valuable product – crude oil), EPA stated, in EPA’s 1993 Clarification of the Regulatory Determination for Wastes from the Exploration, Development and Production of Crude Oil, Natural Gas and Geothermal Energy, Federal Register, Vol. 58, No. 53, the following regarding crude oil reclaimers:

“EPA explained that the inclusion of “liquid and solid wastes” from crude oil reclamation on the list of non-exempt wastes contained in the Regulatory Determination was intended to refer only to those non-E&P wastes generated by reclaimers (e.g., waste solvents from cleaning reclaimers’ equipment) and was not intended to refer to wastes remaining from the treatment of exempt wastes originally generated by the exploration, development or production of crude oil or natural gas.”

“In effect, reclaimers are conducting a specialized form of waste treatment in which valuable product is recovered and removed from waste uniquely associated with E&P operations. In addition, in many cases, product recovery or treatment reduces the volume and overall toxicity of the waste and thereby contributes to the Agency’s policy and goals for waste minimization and treatment of waste prior to disposal.” (EPA, Federal Register, Vol.5 8, No. 53, 1993).

RWQCB Oversight

The RWQCB is the State of California regulatory agency responsible for oversight and enforcement of state and federal regulations for sumps and surface impoundments. EPA discusses the RWQCB oversight authority in the following document:

  • Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery (ORCR), Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response (OSWRER), Memorandum – Review of State Oil and Natural Gas Exploration, Development, and Production (E&P) Solid waste management Regulations, dated April 1, 2014.

In Appendix CA-2 – Summary of Regulations for Oil Field Waste Pits California, of this EPA E&P Solid Waste Management Document, EPA stated the following regarding the RWQCB’s regulatory oversight role:

“Generally speaking, the primary authority for management of oil and gas solid wastes is divided between two regulatory bodies. Primary authority regarding solid wastes managed in tanks and underground injected is regulated by the California Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources. Primary authority regarding oil and gas solid wastes managed in pits, also known as “sumps” or “surface impoundments” in the state, are managed by the Regional Water Quality Control Boards.”

“Regulation concerning technical requirements for oil and natural gas E&P for the state of California is found primarily in the California Code of Regulations, Title 14 – Natural Resources, Division 2 – Department of Conservation, Chapter 4 – Development, Regulation, and Conservation of Oil and Gas Resources, as well as California Code of Regulations, Title 27 – Environmental Protection, Division 2 – Solid Waste, Chapter 3 – Criteria for All Waste Management Units, Facilities, and Disposal Sites as regulated by the California Department of Conservation’s Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources and Regional Water Quality Control Boards, along with various other regulatory bodies.”

“California regulates oil and natural gas E&P wastes under the CA hazardous waste regulations, as administered by the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) if toxicity of a substance is determined based on criteria other than the Federal Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure (TCLP) or the waste meets any of the other three characteristics of hazardous waste codified in 22 CCR Article 3 Sections 66261.20 (i.e., ignitability, corrosivity, and reactivity). E&P wastes are included in the exemption from regulation under Subtitle C of RCRA (22 CCR 66261.4(b)(2) and 66261.24(a)(1)) if the waste is hazardous solely by meeting the Federal characteristic for toxicity under the TCLP.”