SPCC

Cleanup of Chlorides in Soils at Natural Gas Well Sites

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As described in our previous posting, CEC recently learned that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) will soon be issuing draft guidance that standardizes the regulatory requirements for reporting, remediating, and restoring areas impacted by spills or releases from oil and gas (O&G) well operations. That guidance specifies that the remediation of specific types of releases will be referred to the Bureau of Environmental Cleanup and Brownfields (BECB) for oversight of remedial activities which will be performed in accordance with the provisions of the Pennsylvania Land Recycling Program, commonly known as Act 2. Among the other provisions of Act 2, it requires that a site be remediated using one of three standards available in Act 2: Background Standard; Statewide Health Standard; or Site-Specific Standard. One parameter that must often be addressed after releases at natural gas well sites is chloride. Act 2 does not have a Media Specific Concentration (MSC) established for chlorides in soils for use in achieving the Statewide Health Standard, which could preclude the use of that cleanup standard. The lack of an established regulatory standard for chlorides in soil to guide remedial activities is also a potential concern in surrounding states.
The term “chloride” does not refer to any specific compound but is a category of substances that are either present in the deep groundwater encountered during well drilling to reach the Marcellus Shale, or are added to drilling muds or hydrofracturing fluids to facilitate development of a gas well.  The most common chlorides of interest include sodium chloride, calcium chloride, magnesium chloride, ammonium chloride, potassium chloride, and barium chloride. Act 2 established a MSC of 250 mg/l for chlorides in groundwater based on the Secondary Maximum Concentration Level (SMCL) promulgated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). However, as stated earlier in this blog, Pennsylvania does not have a MSC for chlorides in soil. Both PADEP and industry personnel have requested guidance on how to address chlorides in soils.  As a result, PADEP is considering proposing the use of a Site-Specific Standard for chlorides in soil that would address both the potential soil-to-groundwater pathway and the ecological pathway that could impact species and habitats of concern.
The soil-to-groundwater pathway could be evaluated by submitting samples of impacted soil to a laboratory for analysis using the Synthetic Precipitation Leaching Procedure (SPLP).  Soils with a SPLP-leachable chloride concentration less than the groundwater MSC of 250 mg/l would be considered as having achieved attainment with the soil-to-groundwater MSC.  Additionally, potential surface water impacts to seeps/springs and stormwater runoff would be evaluated using the water quality standard (WQS) of 250 mg/l.  The potential for using soil to groundwater leachability calculations to derive cleanup standards for chlorides and other soluble constituents such as sulfate and bromide may also be considered since methods for performing these calculations have already been established under Act 2.
Under the existing Act 2 process, an evaluation of the ecological risk must be performed to address potential species and habitats of concern, but the evaluation does not have to consider impacts to common plant species.  PADEP is considering implementing additional requirements in an attempt to prevent the development of a Site-Specific Standard that would be considered to be protective of the species and habitats of concern specified in the Act 2 regulations while allowing residual chloride concentrations to remain in the soil that would negatively impact vegetation on the property.  These additional requirements would include an assessment of the chloride tolerance of the vegetation present at a site to develop a Site-Specific Standard.  This site-specific vegetation chloride tolerance approach could result in a large variation of chloride cleanup criteria from site to site.  For example, some agricultural crops can tolerate total chloride concentrations in soils of up to 1,500 mg/kg while more sensitive species cannot tolerate total chloride concentrations in soils at concentrations in the range of 500 to 800 mg/kg.  Proper selection and application of soil amendments can reduce the amount of chlorides and other ions (particularly sodium) in the soil that are potentially deleterious to plants, thereby reducing the potential toxicity due to residual chloride concentrations.
If you have questions on how the spill and release guidance might apply to your operations, please contact Bo Valli, P.G., (bvalli@cecinc.com) or Tom Maher, P.G., (tmaher@cecinc.com) at 800-365-2324.

PADEP to Issue Draft Guidance for Response to Releases and Spills From Gas Sites

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CEC recently learned that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) will soon be issuing draft guidance that standardizes the regulatory requirements for reporting, remediating, and restoring areas impacted by spills or releases from oil and gas (O&G) well operations. The guidance will be applicable to spills and releases from conventional well operations as well as unconventional shale gas exploration and production (E&P) operations involving the Marcellus and Utica Shales. The guidance is being developed to provide a consistent and uniform response program for releases and spills, and to establish a regulatory framework within which PADEP will exercise its administrative discretion when dealing with releases.

Until recently, responses to spills and releases from O&G operations were administered by the Office of Oil and Gas Management (OOGM), which was formerly referred to as the Bureau of Oil and Gas Management.   The various OOGM offices were free to exercise their discretion as to how to address each spill on a case-by-case basis. The incident reporting mechanism and overall responsibility for handling releases will remain with the OOGM, while the remediation of specific types of releases will be referred to the Bureau of Environmental Cleanup and Brownfields (BECB) for oversight of remedial activities. The practice of referring spills and releases to the BECB has already occurred with the issuance of several Notices of Violation that direct responsible parties to contact the BECB regarding procedures for conducting cleanups under the provisions of the Pennsylvania Land Recycling Program, commonly known as Act 2.  Specifically, environmental remediation standards established under Act 2 will be used whenever site remediation is required under the Clean Streams Law, the Air Pollution Control Act, the Solid Waste Management Act, the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act, and the Storage Tank or the Spill Prevention Act.

The two types of releases specified in the guidance are based on their potential to cause environmental harm.  The first type is a release of regulated substances of less than 42 gallons that does not pose a danger of polluting waters of the Commonwealth and does not result in damage to the property. The guidance will specify that releases of that type will be cleaned up by removing visibly impacted soil.  For releases that exceed those criteria, performance of remediation of the impacted media will be required in accordance with the administrative and technical requirements of Act 2.  The cleanup standard used may be selected from three standards available in Act 2: Background Standard, Statewide Health Standard, or Site-Specific Standard. The Responsible Party would be required to follow the administrative process set forth in Act 2, including the submittal of a Notice of Intent to Remediate (NIR), publishing public notices and submitting a Final Report demonstrating attainment of the selected standard.  The submission of a NIR and public notifications can be waived under Act 2 if the final report is submitted within 90 days of the release.

Some potential concerns related to this guidance include:

  • The time needed to administratively complete the Act 2 process.  The Act 2 process will add to the administrative requirements and likely add to the time needed to obtain a release from PADEP. As indicated earlier in this posting, the administrative requirements could be reduced somewhat if a spill or release referred to the BECB is remediated to attainment of one of the remediation standards available under Act 2.
  • Potential for negative publicity: Increased negative publicity for the natural gas industry may result should the public notification portion of the Act 2 regulations be necessary.
  • Deed covenant requirement: Activities of natural gas operators are usually performed on leases and there is uncertainty about how landowners will react to the deed notification/environmental covenants required when utilizing site-specific cleanup standards under Act 2.  This would be the case for soils impacted by chlorides, a chemical of concern often associated with releases at natural gas sites.  There is no Statewide Health Standard for chloride in soil; and, as such, only the Site-Specific Standard and Background Standard are available for use under Act 2.

If you have questions on how the spill and release guidance might apply to your operations, please contact Bo Valli, P.G. (bvalli@cecinc.com) or Tom Maher, P.G. (tmaher@cecinc.com) at 800-365-2324.

November 2010 Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure Plan Deadline

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You may be a bit confused about another deadline for Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure (SPCC) Plans considering the long history of this evolving regulation.  EPA’s complete regulatory history can be found in their SPCC history, but here’s a chronology of the highlights:

  • 1973:  Original SPCC Rule published in Federal Register (12/11)
  • 1991, 1993, & 1997:   Proposed revisions
  • 2002:  Final “revised” SPCC Rule published (7/17)
  • 2003 – 2006:  Several compliance date extensions
  • 2006:  SPCC Rule Amendments (12/26)
  • 2007 – 2009:   Additional compliance date extensions
  • 2009:  Compliance Date Extended to November 10, 2010 (6/19)
  • 2009:  Final Rule on Amendments (11/5)

 Three key take-aways from this history should be that 1) these regulations have been evolving for over 35 years now, 2) a final rule has been in place since 2002, and 3) the current compliance deadline is November 10, 2010.

Owner/operators should be aware that none of the regulatory actions that have occurred since 2002 have removed the obligation of affected facilities to comply with the Rule.  EPA explains that compliance dates have been extended to allow owner/operators time to understand all the revisions and make changes as applicable to their facilities and plans.  However, EPA states that “facilities must amend or prepare, and implement SPCC Plans by the compliance date in accordance with revisions to the SPCC rule promulgated since 2002.”

Final Amendments

On November 5, 2009, the EPA Administrator signed the current “final” amendments to the SPCC Rule.  The amendments are designed to increase clarity and streamline the requirements for SPCC Plans.  The criteria for facilities to have and implement an SPCC Plan have not been changed.  Non-transportation facilities with sufficient storage capacity that could discharge oil into navigable waters and/or shorelines are still subject to the Rule. 

Tier I and II Facilities

The major recent change to the Rule is creation of Tier I and Tier II facilities.  Tier I facilities are generally smaller sites with the following characteristics:

  • Oil storage of  less than 10,000 gallons aboveground;
  • No single tank larger than 5,000 gallons; and
  • No single oil discharge of more than 1,000 gallons in 3-year period, or no more than two discharges in excess of more than 42 gallons in any 12-month period.

 SPCC Plans for Tier I facilities can be greatly simplified by using EPA’s template Tier I SPCC Plan.  Tier I plans are not required to address many basic elements such as a facility diagram or facility description, compliance with facility drainage requirements or brittle fracture evaluations, and compliance with loading/unloading rack provisions.  These plans may either be self-certified or certified by a Professional Engineer.  The amendment does not supersede any state requirements for a Professional Engineer to certify the SPCC Plan. 

Tier II facilities have the same characteristics as Tier I, except that the facility has at least one aboveground oil storage tank in excess of 5,000 gallons.  Tier II facilities can be either self-certified or PE-certified, but they cannot use the template SPCC Plan. 

November 10, 2010 Deadline

The significance of the November 10, 2010 compliance deadline depends on when the facility started operation, as follows:

Date Facility Commenced Operation November 10, 2010 Compliance Obligation
On or before August 16, 2002 Maintain the existing SPCC Plan and make amendments and implement changes as needed to comply with post-2002 revisions.
From August 16, 2002  through November 10, 2010 Prepare and implement an SPCC Plan consistent with current rules.
After November 10, 2010 Prepare and implement an SPCC Plan consistent with current rules before beginning operation.

 At this time, EPA’s recommends that facilities subject to the SPCC rule:

  • Review the SPCC Rule, amendments, and compliance deadlines;
  • Identify areas of your SPCC Plan that require amendment (if applicable);
  • Make necessary facility modifications, if any; and
  • Ensure that your SPCC Plan is up-to-date by November 10, 2010.

 If you have any questions about SPCC applicability or recent amendments, please contact Kris Macoskey, QEP, at kmacoskey@cecinc.com or Paul Tomiczek, P.E., at ptomiczek@cecinc.com (800-365-2324). More information on EPA’s SPCC Rule can be found at EPA’s SPCC website: EPA’s SPCC Rule page.