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RRC, TCEQ team up to streamline permitting process in Texas

In the years since unconventional drilling became more common, oil, gas, and pipeline operators have had an increased need to discharge produced or other sources of waste water.

To obtain a permit for surface water discharges, operators may have needed to apply to both the Railroad Commission (RRC) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). For related environmental activities, such as surface water rights, they might need to contact the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (ECEQ). Potentially dealing with three agencies may have been time-consuming and detracting from core business activities.

At the direction of the 86th Texas Legislature via House Bill 2771, the RRC began working with the TCEQ in 2019 to help that agency gain primacy from the EPA for all surface water discharge issues in the state.

On 15 January, that work culminated in RRC transferring certain discharge permitting to surface waters of the state for produced water, hydrostatic testing and gas plant effluent to the TCEQ and EPA, granting TCEQ authority to administer the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program in Texas. Operators should now submit applications for these permits to TCEQ.

“This greatly benefits the energy industry in our state by making the regulation easier to understand for our operators,” said Wei Wang, RRC Executive Director. “Through our planning with the TCEQ, we were successful in that EPA agreed to delegate this NPDES program and transfer its authority to Texas.”

This means that obtaining a permit for certain discharges to surface water has become simpler. For instance, before the current permitting process took effect, to conduct hydrostatic testing on a pipeline to ensure its integrity, an operator needed to get a permit from RRC and EPA to release any discharge to a surface water body and call a TCEQ regional office to obtain permission to use surface water for the testing. Now, operators will only need to contact TCEQ.

RRC does retain certain regulatory authority in water discharge, such as surface application of wastewater that does not impact the waters of the state and the recycling of domestic wastewater. More information can be found on RRC’s website.

For information about surface water discharge for the oil and gas industry, visit the TCEQ’s webpage.

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