Rule Changes, Proposals Could Prove Significant For 2012 Underground Market

Annual Regulatory Outlook
By Stephen Barlas, Washington Editor | February 2012, Vol. 67 No. 2

The potential problem is Marcellus wastewater in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, where there are few reinjection wells. That wastewater is trucked to POTWs for disposal. That wastewater contains benzene, radium and other contaminants which can be harmful when discharged into surface waters such as lakes and rivers. Surface water discharges are regulated by the Clean Water Act (CWA). The POTWs, for the most part, do not have the technology now to remove those contaminants before sending the wastewater to local rivers and streams.

That is the background to the EPA's release of an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking on Oct. 16, 2011, which could end up requiring POTWs to adopt pre-treatment technologies under the CWA when receiving shale gas wastewater. Some states such as Pennsylvania have closed loopholes which had allowed their POTWs to pass shale wastewater to POTWs without pre-treating those waste waters. But environmentalists are pushing for a national CWA POTW pre-treatment standard which some in industry (and especially Congressional Republicans) believes will stymie natural gas production in shale areas. In any case, the EPA doesn't plan to issue a proposed rule until 2014.

Silica standard imminent
A new construction workplace standard on silica is, on the other hand, probably imminent. With regard to silica action from the OSHA, one always has to hedge, because the agency has been considering improving the 1972 standard since 1997, with no action ever taken. The Obama administration designated silica reform a regulatory priority in 2010; but a proposed rule has been sitting at the White House OMB for nearly one year waiting for approval prior to OSHA being able to publish it. One construction industry lobbyist in Washington says no one has seen the OSHA proposed rule; but he believes that the agency will propose reducing workplace exposure by 50 percent. Construction groups are lobbying OMB to disapprove the OSHA proposed rule, in part because they believe the agency is not enforcing the current standard.

Part of the reason OSHA does not enforce the current silica standard is that it lacks the resources, i.e. budget, to do so. That situation is apt to get worse, and diminishing federal funds for many federal programs is a fact of life going forward.