Many environmental managers for E&P operations do not realize that small amounts of oil field waste can result in substantial CERCLA or Superfund liability. Believing that the petroleum exclusion within CERCLA and the oil and gas waste exemption in RCRA covers their company's liabilities, many E&P firms are very surprised when USEPA or state environmental agencies make demands for substantial funding to clean up an abandoned waste site. Planning for waste disposal before it is generated can minimize the likelihood of becoming involved in a CERCLA site. The crucial planning steps in reducing this liability are 1) knowing what hazardous substances are in the waste stream, 2) segregating exempt wastes from non-exempt wastes, and 3) very carefully selecting where the waste will be taken.
Waste from an E&P company can quickly become very expensive waste when it is commingled with other industrial waste streams at commercial disposal sites. Although most E&P waste is not very toxic, it typically comes in large quantities. When the E&P operator decides for economic or other reasons to commingle just the smallest amount of hazardous material with a large load of water-based drilling mud or bottom sediments from a field separator or a tank at a waterflood, the entire load can be classified as hazardous. It is crucial to completely segregate the true E&P waste from all other wastes and to make sure that there is no ambiguity on the manifest as to what is sent for disposal. It is then important to know how to select a disposal site. Although the process may not completely relieve a company from liability, it can greatly reduce the cost.
This paper will go through the steps that can aid environmental managers in reducing their overall Superfund liability and offer suggestions on how to minimize remediation costs once they find themselves targeted by agencies to clean up abandoned sites.