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EARTHWORKS’ Oil & Gas Accountability Project is taking part in STRONGER a worthwhile, but Rube Goldbergian attempt to patch holes in regulations governing hazardous waste produced by the oil and gas industry.

The 1980 amendments to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) created an exemption to the federal hazardous waste program for oil and gas exploration and production (E&P) wastes pending completion of a study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

In 1988, EPA completed its study and determined that these wastes should not be regulated as hazardous wastes. EPA’s regulatory determination concluded that existing state and federal regulations were generally adequate, but that some regulatory gaps existed and that enforcement of existing regulations was inconsistent.

EPA proposed a three-pronged approach to address these concerns that included working with the states to encourage improvement in state regulations and enforcement programs.

In 1989, the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC) responded by offering to assist EPA by creating a state regulatory review process. The IOGCC is an organization that represents the governors and state agencies charged with regulating the oil and gas industry in 37 states (30 member and seven associate states). These states produce virtually all of the onshore crude oil and natural gas in the United States.

In 1999, State Review of Oil and Natural Gas Environmental Regulations, Inc. (STRONGER) was created to administer the State Review Process. STRONGER is an independent stakeholder organization with representation from state oil and gas regulatory programs, industry, and public interest organizations. The activities of STRONGER are funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S Department of Energy, and funding from other sources.

The Review of State Oil and Natural Gas Environmental Regulatory Programs is based on guidelines originally developed in December 1990 by the EPA/IOCC Study of State Regulation of Oil and Gas Exploration & Production Wastes. This document established guidelines that represented the minimum acceptable criteria for regulatory programs. This original study resulted in the initiation of the State Review Process administered by the IOGCC.

In short, STRONGER is necessary oversight of state regulations of oil and gas industry hazardous wastes. But it’s necessary only because the federal government exempted these wastes from RCRA in the first place.