On December 28, 2016, U.S. District Judge John D. Bates signed a consent decree that settles a lawsuit between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and several environmental advocacy organizations concerning the agency’s treatment of oil and natural gas wastes under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Specifically, the consent decree requires EPA to determine by March 15, 2019 whether revisions to certain regulations commonly referred to as “Subtitle C” and “Subtitle D” are necessary. The environmental advocacy organizations alleged in their lawsuit that EPA has not – within the three year statutory timeframe – reviewed and, where necessary, revised the Subtitle C guidelines for state solid waste management plans for oil and natural gas wastes or the Subtitle D regulations for oil and natural gas wastes.
EPA last reviewed the applicability of its Subtitle C regulations to oil and natural gas wastes in 1988, when the agency exempted oil and natural gas wastes from RCRA’s hazardous waste regulations, which impose rigorous management, disposal, treatment, recordkeeping, and reporting requirements. In the same year, EPA also stated that RCRA’s existing solid waste regulations may not fully address oil and gas waste concerns.
If EPA determines that revisions to Subtitle C or Subtitle D are necessary to properly regulate oil and natural gas wastes, the consent decree requires the agency to finalize new rules by July 15, 2021. Oil and natural gas wastes are generally regulated by state authorities, and a decision by EPA to directly regulate oil and natural gas wastes at the federal level would represent a significant regulatory change for the oil and natural gas industry.