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EPA Region 4 Issues Final National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System General Permit for Offshore Oil, Gas Extraction for Outer Continental Shelf of Gulf of Mexico

Release Date: 12/22/2004
Contact Information: Laura Niles, (404) 562-8353, niles.laura@epa.gov
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today the issuance of a Final National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) general permit for discharges from oil and gas extraction activities in the eastern portion of the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) of the Gulf of Mexico.  The permit, which becomes effective on January 1, 2005, authorizes discharges from offshore oil and gas exploration, development and production facilities located in, and discharging to, all Federal waters of the eastern portion of the Gulf.

“This oil and gas permit provides for the highest level of protection ever required under a general permit for the Gulf of Mexico,” said Jimmy Palmer, EPA Regional Administrator in Atlanta.  “It establishes more stringent limits on specific pollutants.  The development of this permit considered the concerns of all interested parties.  EPA is committed to protecting sensitive environments.”

Three permitting options were considered.  Alternative A was the issuance of a general permit to include limits and permit conditions addressing the use of non-aqueous-based drilling fluids for existing new sources in areas in general permitting coverage area.  Alternative B was the issuance of a general permit that is unchanged from the previous general permit, which did not include permit limits and/or conditions pertaining to the use of synthetic-based drilling fluids, and Alternative C was no issuance of any general permit.  Alternative A, EPA’s preferred alternative, has been found to be adequately protective of the offshore marine environment. 

The general permit also is protective of state coastal waters.  To comply with the federal consistency provision of the “Coastal  Zone Management Act (CZMA), the permit includes a condition whereby an applicant for permit coverage must provide evidence that the proposed oil and gas extraction project has received the applicable state determination of consistency prior to EPA granting coverage.

The public review of the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) and proposed general permit did not reveal any additional significant adverse impacts not addressed in the SEIS.  Although the present knowledge of the fate and effects of synthetic-based drilling fluids (SBFs) is considered adequate, an understanding of the long-term impacts of the use of SBFs will come from ongoing study.  When and if new pertinent technical information becomes available, that data would be fully evaluated by EPA relative to the present limitations and conditions of the general permit.  To facilitate this, a re-opener condition is included in the permit.

General permit coverage for all permittees under the previous general permit will cease 30 days from the effective date of this permit.  In order to obtain coverage under the reissued general permit, all permittees must submit to EPA a new Notice of Intent (NOI) no later than 30 days after the effective date.  All facility owners of newly acquired leases, on which a discharge will take place before the expiration date of the reissued general permit within the area covered by the general permit, must file a written NOI for existing and new sources prior to discharge. 

The final NPDES general permit includes, best conventional pollutant control technology (BCT), and best available technology economically achievable (BAT) limitations for existing sources and New Source Performance Standards limitations for new sources.  The final permit, the amendment to the fact sheet (which includes responses to comments on the proposed general permit) and other related documents may be downloaded from the following Web site: www.epa.gov/region4/water/permits/.