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Oil Industry Laws & Regulations

Posted on August 31, 2022

The oil industry employs hundreds of thousands of people and supports millions of jobs in the United States. However, oil company workers face seven times the rate of serious injury, and industry operations directly affect the environment. As a result, the activities of these companies are regulated at the state and federal level to set industry standards and mitigate the risks.

Environmental Regulations

Environmental regulations aim to reduce the environmental impact of oil and gas extraction, such as controlling how waste is disposed of and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) 

The RCRA, created in 1976, allowed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the ability to control the generation, transportation, treatment, storage, and disposal of hazardous waste. Additional amendments to this law focused on how to minimize waste and phase out the disposal of hazardous waste on land. For example, companies can utilize a closed-loop system that eliminates the need for pits since drilled mud is cleaned and recycled, and waste is collected in portable tanks that can be removed to an appropriate disposal facility. 

The Clean Water Act (CWA)

Restricts and controls the discharge of pollutants, including spills and leaks of oil and other substances into the water, unless authorized by an issued permit. A permit must also be obtained to discharge dredge and fill material into regulated waters. 

The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA)

The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) Underground Injection Control (UIC) Class II program is meant to protect underground drinking water sources from injection activity by regulating the injection of fluids for oil and gas production and wastewater disposal. 

The Clean Air Act (CAA)

The goal of this act is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The act stipulates that operators must take measures to capture escaped natural gas (green completion). The EPA estimates the costs of cutting pollution to be billions, but it can result in fewer premature deaths, lower health costs, and increased productivity. 

Health and Safety Standards

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulates working conditions to promote a safe working environment. According to OSHA, there were 489 oil and gas worker fatalities between 2013 to 2017. Some of the hazards workers face include chemical exposures, explosions, fires, falls, confined spaces, and vehicle accidents, especially if companies cut corners when it comes to worker safety. OSHA outlines the guidelines that oil and gas operators need to follow and offers tips for injury prevention. For example: 

  • Communicate requirements of established operating procedures. 
  • Supply workers with personal protective equipment (PPE) that fits properly and offers protection (e.g., hard hats, eye protection, hearing protection, etc.). 
  • Provide OSHA oil and gas training to workers. 
  • Alert workers of potentially hazardous areas using color codes, labels, posters, and signage. 
  • Prominently display OSHA posters in the workplace for workers’ understanding of their rights. 
  • Have tools and equipment in the facility that are safe and adequately maintained. 
  • Fix any violations found in worksite inspections and post citations at or near areas found to be in violation. 

These are guidelines for general operations, but OSHA goes into even more detail on recommended practices and procedures here.

If you or someone you love has been injured in an oil refinery or pipeline accident in Waco, contact our attorneys today.