Texas E&Ps Facing Stricter Oversight in ‘Substantial Overhaul’ of Oilfield Waste DisposalNational Gas Intel

Texas oil and natural gas regulators plan to streamline and modernize how the exploration and production (E&P) industry manages oilfield waste.

By Morgan Evans
October 9th, 2023

For the first time since 1984, the Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC) is updating Statewide Rule 8, which regulates oil and natural gas waste pits and disposal methods. The rule “will undergo a substantial overhaul to better reflect modern waste management practices and recent advancements in production methods,” spokesperson Patty Ramon told NGI.

Currently, most waste permits are managed individually “in commission staff guidance documents or used as best practices, and it is appropriate to incorporate them into the commission’s existing rules,” Ramon said. Produced water and other E&P waste is typically injected into storage pits.

If the revamped rules are finalized, E&Ps would be required to construct, operate, monitor and register wastewater pits, as well as study surrounding groundwater supplies. The rules also would limit sites for wastewater management. An online database also would be created for applications, permits and reporting requirements.

According to the commission, the aim is to “streamline” waste storage practices and encourage treating and recycling produced water. E&Ps also could undertake pilot projects on reusing the waste, including drill cuttings.

The updates are also considered necessary following legislation enacted in 2021. Under Texas Senate Bill (SB) 601, the RRC was required to adopt rules to encourage oil and gas waste recycling and for commercial recycling fluid waste permits.

Texas’ mining and extraction sector accounts for about 2%/year of water use in the state, according to RRC. Hydraulic fracturing in the Permian during 2019 generated about 3.93 billion barrels of wastewater, according to the Texas Produced Water Consortium.

Significant Impact

The Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners Association (TIPRO) expects E&P economics to be impacted by the rules, President Ed Longanecker told NGI.

“Based on feedback from members of TIPRO, these changes could significantly impact the economics of oil and gas drilling projects in Texas, especially for smaller operators and low producing wells,” he said. The trade group wants to “strongly encourage all Texas operators to closely review the rule changes” and participate in the public comment period.

Commission Shift, a nonprofit that focuses on reforming oil and gas oversight in Texas, also reacted.

Field organizer Alyssa Wallace said there are “serious concerns” from people who live near E&P operations. Residents were mainly concerned with “the proximity of oil and gas waste sites to schools and places of business and the lack of enforcement over these dangerous sites,” she said.

Commission Shift executive director Virginia Palacios told NGI, “When it comes to the operators, we know that these pits can be properly managed, but they aren’t always and if we want to create a level playing field across all the operators, we need them to support rules that make every operator a good neighbor.”

The draft rules are available for comment until Nov. 3.

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