EPA Proposes Significant Changes to NPDES Permit for Oil and Gas Facilities in the GOM OCS

By Carlos J. Moreno

On March 7, 2012, the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) published in the Federal Register a proposed NPDES general permit for discharges from oil and gas facilities in the western and central portion of the Outer Continental Shelf of the Gulf of Mexico (the “proposed permit”). See 77 Fed. Reg. 13601 (Mar. 7, 2012), available at http://www.epa.gov/region6/water/npdes/genpermit/index.htm. Affected companies may wish to comment on proposed changes to the permitting and reporting process, and to the effluent limitation and monitoring requirements.  Comments are due by May 7,2012. Some of the most significant proposed changes are described below.

 

Notice of Intent and Discharge Monitoring Reports

Under the proposed permit, any party that meets one of the following criteria would need to obtain coverage as an “operator”: (1) possession of lease block and operational control over activities, (2) day-to-day operational control of activities necessary to ensure compliance with the permit, or (3) operational control over a vessel or Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit (“MODU”) subject to Cooling Water Intake Structures (“CWIS”) regulations. As for Discharge Monitoring Reports (“DMRs”), the proposed permit states that “monitoring results for each facility within the particular lease block shall be reported on DMRs for each individual outfall authorized that has a monitoring requirement.” Proposed Permit, at p. 52 (emphasis added). This language suggests a potential need for separate permit coverage for any MODU subject to CWIS requirements.  

Effluent Limitations and Monitoring

The proposed permit includes new effluent limitations and monitoring requirements for specific discharges, as well as a number of clarifications about the authorization status of specific waste streams. For example:

·         Operators must conduct a Produced Water Characterization Study (individual or joint study);

·         All hydrate control fluid discharges now require toxicity testing;

·         Facilities subject to CWIS requirements must submit a CWIS-specific quarterly report;

·         Operators should implement spill prevention Best Management Practices (“BMPs”);

·         Propping agents used in hydraulic fracturing are considered to be produced sand; and

·         Fluids used for testing fluid handling equipment cannot be discharged.

The public comments period runs until May 7, 2012. EPA will be holding two public hearings on the proposed permit: April 11 in Houston, Texas and April 12 in Metairie, Louisiana. 

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