Regulatory News

News Item 1: EPA Issues New Rule On Cooling Water Intake Systems

On June 2, EPA announced a final rule, established under the Clean Water Act, which officials said will provide increased protection to fish, shellfish and other aquatic life. The rule sets standards for cooling water intake structures at new oil and gas extraction facilities either at offshore or coastal locations.

The rule applies to an estimated 124 new rigs and platforms expected to be built over the next two decades. These facilities could require as much as 20 million gallons of water a day to cool the equipment.

Derived from Section 316(b) of the Clean Water Act, this is the final action of a three-phase process that began by implementing requirements for new facilities, but did not include offshore or coastal oil and gas facilities. The second rule addressed existing power plants that use more than 50 million gallons of cooling water per day.

Cooling water intake structures at existing manufacturing facilities and certain power generators will continue to abide by section 316(b) requirements established on a case-by-case, best professional judgment basis through the water permitting program. The final rule does not change the regulatory requirements for facilities subject to the first and second regulations.

More information can be found at http://www.epa.gov/waterscience/316b/ph3.htm

News Item 2: EPA Revises Stormwater Regulations To Exempt Oil, Gas Development

EPA announced on June 7 it finalized revisions to exempt most "uncontaminated" stormwater discharges from oil and gas exploration, production, processing, treatment operations, or transmission facilities from the requirement to obtain National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit coverage.

The revision to stormwater regulations implement an amendment to the Clean Water Act passed in the Energy Policy Act of 2005. According to a fact sheet issued by the agency, this exclusion applies to construction of drilling sites, waste management pits, and access roads, as well as construction of the transportation and treatment infrastructure such as pipelines, natural gas treatment plants, natural gas pipeline compressor stations, and crude oil pumping stations.

Construction activities that result in a discharge of a reportable quantity release or that contribute pollutants (other than non-contaminated sediments) to a violation of a water quality standard are still subject to permit coverage.

According to the agency, this rule encourages voluntary application of best-management practices for oil and gas field construction activities to minimize erosion and control sediment to protect surface water quality during storm events. It also retains the right of states to regulate these activities under other laws and authorities.

EPA officials said they will work with government, citizens and industry to promote the importance of storm water management at oil and gas sites as it implements its rulemaking activities. This rule is effective June 12.

Additional information on the final rule can be found at http://cfpub.epa.gov/npdes/stormwater/oilgas.cfm.

News Item 3: EPA Letter Encourages Use Of Provision Streamlining Construction Site Requirements

On May 8, Assistant Administrator for Water Ben Grumbles sent a letter to regional administrators encouraging permitting authorities to make use of the "Qualifying Local Programs" provisions in the stormwater regulations.

These provisions offer an opportunity to streamline administrative requirements in the stormwater program by formally recognizing local construction management programs that meet or exceed the provisions in EPA's construction general permit. Recognition of qualifying local programs eases the burden on construction site operators by providing them with one set of requirements to follow, agency officials said. A strong municipal program for construction site stormwater runoff, which meets the same basic provisions as the state program, can be recognized in the state's Construction General Permit. These municipal programs become the primary regulatory authority for construction site operators in that area.

The Phase II regulations require approximately 5,000 smaller municipalities to develop and implement comprehensive stormwater programs, including programs to manage stormwater runoff from construction sites. As these programs come online (municipalities have five years to fully implement their programs), state permitting authorities should take advantage of opportunities to recognize good programs and to streamline requirements where ever possible.

The Office of Water will be preparing brief case studies based on current state use of this provision as well as some further guidance about how to review municipal construction programs.

For additional information, contact Nikos Singelis in the Water Permits Division at (202) 564-0692.

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