On Dec. 30, 2005, the EPA Administrator signed a proposed rule that will exempt most stormwater discharges from oil and gas exploration, production, processing, or treatment operations, or transmission facilities, including associated construction activities, from the requirement to obtain NPDES permit coverage. The proposed rule also encourages operators of oil and gas activities or operations to implement and maintain Best Management Practices (BMPs) to minimize the discharge of pollutants during and after construction activities to help ensure protection of surface water quality during storm events. Entities potentially affected by this action include operators of oil and gas exploration, production, processing and treatment, and transmission facilities and associated construction activities at oil and gas sites that generally are defined in the following North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS) codes and titles: 211 – Oil and Gas Extraction, 213111 – Drilling Oil and Gas Wells, 213112 – Support Activities for Oil and Gas Operations, 48611 – Pipeline Transportation of Crude Oil and 48621 – Pipeline Transportation of Natural Gas.
The proposed exemption includes construction of drilling sites, drilling waste management pits, and access roads. EPA also interprets the proposed exemption as being applicable to construction of in-field treatment plants and the transportation infrastructure (e.g., crude oil and natural gas pipelines, natural gas treatment plants and both natural gas pipeline compressor and crude oil pump stations) necessary for the operation of most producing oil and gas fields. Such construction activities would thus be eligible for the CWA section 402(l)(2) exemption from NPDES permitting requirements.
There is no distinction in the proposed rule as to whether the amount of disturbed acreage is less than one acre, between one and five acres, or greater than five acres. Hence, discharges from “large” construction activity (disturbing at least five acres) at oil and gas facilities would be eligible for the exemption from NPDES permitting requirements to the same extent as discharges from small construction activity at such facilities.
EPA is proposing to clarify in 122.26(a)(2)(ii) that a water quality standard violation for sediment alone does not trigger a permitting requirement.
The proposed rulemaking would apply to all States, Federal lands, and Indian Country regardless of whether EPA is the NPDES permitting authority. Discharges that would be exempted from NPDES permit requirements in this proposal would be exempted from such NPDES requirements regardless of whether EPA or a State is the permitting authority. EPA wishes to clarify, however, that this proposal is not intended to interfere with the States’ ability to regulate any discharges through a State’s non-NPDES program. This proposed rulemaking would not curtail the ability of an appropriate environmental management agency (e.g., State, Tribal or local government) from imposing specific discharge conditions on an oil and gas operator that would otherwise be exempted under today’s proposed rule so long as these requirements are imposed pursuant to authority other than an EPA-approved NPDES program. For example, a State or tribe could choose, under its own authorities, to set limits or require that an operator meet certain discharge conditions in sensitive watersheds.
EPA intends to issue a final rulemaking in advance of the June 12, 2006, deadline by which oil and gas construction sites that disturb one to five acres of land are currently scheduled to obtain NPDES permits for their discharges. If finalized as proposed, EPA’s final rulemaking would effectively exempt all field activities or operations associated with oil and gas exploration, production, processing or treatment and transmission construction activities from regulation under the NPDES storm water permitting program, except in accordance with 122.26(a)(2)(ii) and (c)(1)(iii). The proposal will be available for public comment for 45 days after publication in the Federal Register (docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OW-2002-0068).