EPA Effluent Guidelines: Proposed Regulation of Shale Gas and Coalbed Methane Effluent

The Water Report, Issue 96

February 15, 2012

Andrea Campbell and Shippen Howe authored an article in The Water Report focusing on the Environmental Protection Agency's Effluent Guidelines Plan and its potential impacts on hydraulic fracturing and coalbed methane production. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a final 2010 Effluent Guidelines Program Plan (Effluent Guidelines Plan) on October 26, 2011, which, if implemented, will expand federal regulatory oversight of water discharges from oil and gas activities involving hydraulic fracturing and coalbed methane production. Notice of Final 2010 Effluent Guidelines Program Plan, 76 Fed. Reg. 66,286 (Oct. 26, 2011).

Existing EPA effluent guideline limitations already address direct discharges of shale gas extraction wastewater and prohibit any direct discharges into waters of the US. However, EPA does not yet regulate shale gas extraction wastewater sent to Publicly Owned Treatment Works (POTWs). After studying the shale gas extraction industry, EPA announced that it will initiate a rulemaking process to decide the appropriate level of pretreatment standards for discharge of water to POTWs from the extraction of natural gas from shale. EPA also announced that it will initiate an effluent limitations guideline rulemaking for the coalbed methane industry to address direct discharges to surface waters, and discharges to POTWs.

The Effluent Guidelines Plan marks the conclusion of EPA’s survey and review of the need for regulation of wastewater from shale gas and coalbed methane extraction and the first step toward new wastewater regulations for these activities. Proposed regulations are not expected until 2013 for coalbed methane and 2014 for shale gas extraction. Assuming that EPA keeps to this schedule, a final rule would be issued in the 2015-16 timeframe, at the earliest.

This article focuses on the parts of the Effluent Guidelines Plan that affect the oil and gas industry. The Effluent Guidelines Plan also announced that EPA will develop pretreatment requirements for discharges of mercury from the dental industry and solicited comments on EPA’s reviews of other existing effluent guidelines and pretreatment standards...

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