Pennsylvania Issues New General Permit for Oil and Gas Wastewaters

This post was written by Mark Mustian

On March 24, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) revised and reissued General Permit WMGR123, which authorizes the processing and beneficial use of processed liquid wastes generated on oil and gas well sites and associated infrastructure. WMGR123, issued under the authority of the Bureau of Waste Management, replaces the three existing general permits which previously regulated the recycling and reuse of oil and gas wastewaters.

Wastewater generated from well sites that is sent off-site for reuse is regulated as a residual waste, and requires permitting by DEP's Solid Waste Group. Prior to the issuance of the new general permit, there were 3 different general permits applicable to oil and gas operations: WMGR119, WMGR121, and WMGR123. The required permit was based upon the source of the water, the type of treatment, and the use of the recycled water, but the permits were generally very similar. WMGR119 and 121 are now revoked and all off-site activities will be authorized under the new WMGR123 permit. In addition, the on-site reuse of drilling wastes has previously been authorized by the Oil and Gas Program through submittal of Form 5500-PM-OG0071. There is no indication that this procedure has changed, but it is a question that will need to be answered.

The new general permit removes some current restrictions on the recycling of oil and gas wastewaters, and also adds some new requirements. For facilities that plan to recycle and reuse relatively dilute waters, the new permit should be helpful. In particular, for wastewaters with low total dissolved solids (TDS) (i.e., less than 500 mg/l) that are in compliance with standards found in Appendix A of the permit, the operator will not have to manage the waste as a residual waste, and should be able to utilize existing designs for impoundments and handling of the water. This approach would work for water generated at a well site and stored prior to transport to a recycling facility, and for recycled water which has been treated and transported to a well site for reuse. These wastewaters with low TDS will no longer have to be transported as a residual waste.

However, for high TDS wastewater which does not comply with the Appendix A standards, both the generators and users of the recycled water will potentially have new compliance standards. Until the processed oil and gas liquid waste has been transported to a well site and is actually used to develop a well, it must be managed as a residual waste. From the language of the permit, it appears that the requirement to manage the wastewater as a residual waste would apply to both the operator generating the waste and the operator reusing the waste. This will require the operators at both sites to comply with the regulations on storage and transportation found at 25 Pa Code § 299, and in particular the permitting and design requirements for impoundments found in Section 299.141 through 299.145. If either the generator of the waste, or the party beneficially reusing the waste wishes to store the waste prior to either shipment or reuse, they will need to comply with storage requirements that are generally more stringent than the requirements under the oil and gas regulations.

Moreover, the permit holder must comply with several other requirements associated with the general permit. They include: a bonding requirement; sampling requirements to determine whether the wastewaters comply with the Appendix A standards; facility siting requirements; and inspection and records requirements. Overall, the new general permit appears to be designed for permanent recycling facilities that are receiving water from various drill sites, processing it, and then sending it out for reuse at other sites. It does not appear that the general permit will work effectively for individual well sites that want to just transport their water to another well site for reuse.

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