National Pollution Discharge Elimination System

Under the Clean Water Act’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) and California’s Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act, industrial facilities in California are required to obtain coverage under the state’s NPDES general permit for discharges associated with industrial storm water activities (General Industrial Permit) or justify why they are exempt. For regulated facilities, including manufacturing facilities, landfills, mining operations, steam electric power generating facilities, hazardous waste facilities, and oil and gas facilities, failure to obtain coverage under the General Industrial Permit is a potential violation of the Clean Water Act (in addition to state law), which could expose the owner or operator of the facility to potential civil penalties of up to $54,833 per day. Enforcement, however, largely is dependent upon agency inspections or enforcement by citizen groups. Based on estimates by the California Coastkeeper Alliance, many facilities in California may have failed to enroll in the industrial storm water permit program.
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The Railroad Commission of Texas has authority to issue permits for discharges associated with oil and gas operations in the state, but it does not yet have delegation of the NPDES permitting program. Thus, to the extent that produced water discharges are not currently barred under federal regulations, facilities seeking authorization for these discharges to waters of the US must obtain authorization from both EPA and the RRC. This article highlights Texas efforts underway to obtain NPDES delegation for produced water discharges.
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On May 15, EPA released its draft Study of Oil and Gas Extraction Wastewater Management under the Clean Water Act. The Draft Study addresses the results of an extensive review initiated last year to evaluate the management of oil and gas wastewaters generated at onshore facilities and to assess the need for additional discharge options for onshore oil and gas wastewater under the Clean Water Act. Although EPA has not yet adopted any recommendations for regulatory action, it is evident that EPA is continuing to take a hard look at the merits of authorizing broader discharges of produced water to surface waters than those currently allowed for onshore discharges under the CWA effluent guidelines (and generally referred to as the zero discharge standard).
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