Garvin: Oil and Gas Hazardous Waste Exemption Could Be at Risk

The State Journal
10 May 2013
By Pam Kasey

Given an opportunity to appear on a Senate Energy and Commerce Committee roundtable on natural gas later this month, Don Garvin of West Virginia plans to voice a note of caution to the oil and gas industry.

If states don't volunteer to have their oil and gas regulations reviewed by the public-private-government organization STRONGER, Inc., the industry could risk losing its exemption from federal hazardous waste rules, Garvin plans to tell the committee.

A former oil and gas man himself, Garvin is a member of the board of STRONGER, the State Review of Oil and Natural Gas Environmental Regulations.
He will participate in the third of three roundtable discussions the Senate committee is hosting this month. Participants include gas producers, distributors, utilities, environmental groups, regulators, consumers and exporters, and the roundtables are aimed at "ensuring federal policy evolves to take into account the new supplies of natural gas that have become accessible in recent years," according to a committee media release.

Garvin plans to tell the committee about STRONGER's role and challenges.

STRONGER was organized after oil and gas exploration waste was exempted from regulation as hazardous waste under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act in the late 1980s, he said. The idea was that, if states would submit to periodic reviews of their oil and gas regulations in comparison to evolving guidelines developed by STRONGER, federal environmental regulators would be satisfied that matters were in control.

STRONGER has recently prepared guidelines on horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, but only six or seven states have agreed to have their regulations reviewed in comparison with the guidelines, Garvin said.

"If states aren't volunteering for reviews, the whole process fails," he said. "Industry wants to keep the RCRA exemption. But if states aren't going to step up to the plate, maybe it's time we revisit the RCRA exemption."

West Virginia's regulatory program was reviewed in the 1990s and in 2002, according to his recollection, and has not yet had its horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing regulations reviewed.

Each participant in each committee roundtable will speak for three minutes, in Garvin's understanding, and will proceed for two hours as a discussion among committee members and roundtable participants.

Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., expressed hope that the broad variety of participants will bring clarity about the future.

"If we do this right, natural gas has the potential to lift up our country's economy and pave the way to a future that has both more jobs and a cleaner environment with a smaller carbon footprint," Wyden said. "(Ranking member Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska) and I want to hear from the people who deal with these issues every day about where there might be common ground on how to maximize the value of this vital resource."

West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin also is on the committee.

Hearings will begin at 10 a.m. and will be webcast on the committee's website.

The witness list as it stood on May 9 was as follows:

May 14: Infrastructure, Transportation, Research and Innovation

May 21: Domestic Supply and Exports