EPA proposes storm-water permit exemptions

Nick Snow
Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON, DC, Jan. 4 -- The US Environmental Protection Agency has proposed modifications to storm-water regulations under the Clean Water Act that would exempt oil and gas exploration and production.

The proposed action is required under Section 323 of the 2005 Energy Policy Act, the federal agency said.

It would modify National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System regulations to clarify that uncontaminated storm-water discharges do not require federal Clean Water Act permits, EPA said in a Dec. 31, 2005, Federal Register notice.

EPA said the exemption would cover most storm-water discharges from exploration, production, processing, or treatment operations or from transmission facilities, including associated construction activities.

Permits still would be required for construction activities that release a reportable quantity or that contribute pollutants, other than uncontaminated sediments, that violate water quality standards.

The modification would encourage voluntary application of oil and gas construction activity best management practices to minimize erosion and control sediment. EPA said this action during and after construction activities aims to help protect surface water during storms.

Producers have been looking into this already. The Independent Petroleum Association of America, for example, includes on its web site guidance for reasonable and prudent practices for stabilization (RAPPS) at E&P sites.

The guidance, which IPAA and other oil and gas associations and their members compiled, includes operating practices and measures to control sedimentation and erosion in storm-water runoff from clearing, grading, and exploration operations under various location, climatic, and slope conditions.

IPAA says that a producer, after determining that storm-water runoff from clearing, grading, and construction operations requires a construction general permit, should consult EPA or state authorities to determine whether additional best management practices are needed beyond the RAPPS guidance.

EPA will take public comments on its proposed action through Feb. 14. The agency intends to publish a final rule before June 12.

Contact Nick Snow at nsnow@cox.net.

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