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El Dorado, Arkansas Hazardous Waste Injection Wells: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency RCRA Land Disposal Restriction Exemption Reissuance

December 31, 2019

By: Stuart L. Spencer

Category: Arkansas Environmental, Energy, and Water Law

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The United States Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) published a December 30th Federal Register Notice reissuing a Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) Land Disposal Restriction exemption to Great Lakes Chemical Corporation (“Great Lakes”) for two hazardous waste injection wells located at its El Dorado, Arkansas facility[1]

Great Lakes submitted an Underground Injection Control Program no migration petition application and documentation to EPA supporting the request.

EPA determined that to a reasonable degree there will be no migration of hazardous constituents from the injection zone as long as the waste remains hazardous.[2] The exemption authorizes Great Lakes to inject specific restricted hazardous wastes into the two hazardous waste injection wells until December 31, 2026.[3]

EPA regulates the construction, operation, permitting, and closure of injection wells used to place fluids underground for storage or disposal.[4]

Class I wells are used to inject hazardous and non-hazardous wastes into deep, confined rock formations.[5] They are typically drilled thousands of feet below the lowermost underground source of drinking water.[6] Approximately 800 operational Class I wells exist in the United States.[7]

Examples of industries that use Class I wells include:

  • Petroleum refining
  • Metal production
  • Chemical production
  • Pharmaceutical production
  • Commercial disposal
  • Food production
  • Municipal wastewater treatment[8]

Based upon the characteristics of the fluids injected, Class I wells fall into one of four subcategories.

  • Hazardous waste disposal wells
  • Non-hazardous industrial waste disposal wells
  • Municipal wastewater disposal wells
  • Radioactive waste disposal wells[9]

Industry injects hazardous waste through Class I wells, as defined by RCRA.[10] Class I wells are strictly regulated under RCRA and the Safe Drinking Water Act.[11] Construction, permitting, operating, and monitoring requirements are more stringent for Class I hazardous waste disposal wells than for other Class I injection well categories.[12]

The Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments (“HSWA”) to RCRA prohibit land disposal of restricted hazardous waste. The prohibition includes injection of hazardous waste into Class I wells.[13]

The HSWA Amendments include a provision that allows an operator to petition the EPA Administrator for an exemption to the land disposal prohibition.[14] The exemption requires the operator to demonstrate that there will be no migration of hazardous constituents from the injection zone for as long as the wastes remain hazardous.[15]

The length of time required for the demonstration has been defined in the regulations as 10,000 years. The formal demonstration has become known as a Class I no migration petition.[16] The approval process for the no migration petition requires a signature by a regional EPA Administrator, or his or her designee.[17]

The public comment period closed on EPA’s exemption reissuance decision for the Great Lakes El Dorado, Arkansas site on November 22, 2019.[18] No comments were received.[19]

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