The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) of 1976 requires the safe disposal of solid waste and hazardous materials. In 1980, RCRA was amended to exempt waste from the production and development of oil and natural gas (E&P waste). In 1988, the EPA issued a Regulatory Determination further exempting oil and natural gas producers from RCRA’s most stringent safety requirements. This left the task of regulating disposal of these wastes to states, which they have done to varying degrees. Recent reports show the extent of the problem and highlight the potentially fatal consequences.
The regulatory determination was issued before fracking, which uses toxic materials, had become commonplace. Yet fracking remains exempt from RCRA’s Subtitle C standards for safe disposal of hazardous waste. Exempted E&P waste includes: drilling fluids and cuttings, produced water, used hydraulic fracturing fluids, rigwash, workover wastes, tank bottom sludge, glycol-based dehydration wastes, amine-containing sweetening wastes, hydrocarbon-bearing soil, and many other individual waste products.
In its 1988 Regulatory Determination, EPA admitted that E&P wastes contain toxic substances that endanger both human health and the environment and cause cancer. Despite noting that the benzene, phenanthrene, lead, arsenic, barium, antimony, fluoride, and uranium found in E&P wastes are of major concern and present at “levels that exceed 100 times EPA’s health based standards” oil and gas companies are currently excused from requirements to dispose of them safely.
Do you think that EPA should regulate oil and gas waste under subtitle C of RCRA? What are the implications and is this feasible? Are there other environmental laws which currently do not apply to oil and gas companies that should be made to cover the oil and gas industry?