Oil and gas industry urge EPA, White House to revise storm water drilling rules

Producers are urging the White House to retool a pending proposal requiring oil and gas drillers to follow storm water regulations now in place for general construction companies.

By OGJ editors

WASHINGTON, DC, Oct. 25 -- Producers are urging the White House to retool a pending proposal by the US Environmental Protection Agency requiring oil and gas drillers to follow storm water regulations now in place for general construction companies.

"It's unworkable the way the agency is suggesting now, and we have asked the [White House's] Office of Management and Budget to take a closer look at this proposal," an industry source said.

State and regional independent oil associations say 1987 amendments to the Clean Water Act gave oil and gas producers an exemption to storm water runoff rules. Even if EPA feels it is still within its authority to remove that exemption, regulators should consider a blanket waiver for industry, the groups say. Producers maintain storm water runoff from oil and gas drilling sites has minimal to no impact to surface waters compared to commercial construction because activities covered by their general land drilling permits last only a few days to 2 weeks. The runoff rule, if finalized, also may cause serious delays to existing leases and discourage domestic production. The Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners Association predicts that the average permitting time will be "at least" 6 months to obtain what the agency calls a "National Pollution Discharge Elimination System". That timeframe also includes paperwork needed for an endangered species act determination, a historical preservation act determination, and a site specific storm water prevention plan, TIPRO said in a July 30 newsletter to members.

EPA action
Industry officials say EPA is considering waivers for specific situations in which a new water permit may be redundant or unnecessary: These include areas that are unlikely to have rainfall erosion problems or where it has already been shown that the water pollution potential is small.

But producer groups fear the current waiver proposal is too narrow and are threatening litigation unless EPA or the White House offers another proposal. The dispute over storm water comes at a time when industry is also expecting new agency effluent guidelines for drilling sites.

Final resolution of the issue is unlikely before the fall elections for political reasons, government officials suggested. They noted that any reinterpretation of the pending regulation might be labeled by conservation groups as a weakening of environmental rules.

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