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US EPA Regulations for the Management of Used Oil

US EPA Regulations for the Management of Used Oil

The prospect of burning used oil on-site for energy recovery may seem daunting.  You may think that the regulatory burden and related costs would far outstrip any savings on fuel consumption.  I think you may be pleasantly surprised to learn how accommodating the US EPA regulations can be.  In certain conditions, you can even burn used oil you collect from outside parties.  Keep in mind that this information is based on the Federal regulations of the US EPA your state may have more strict requirements and additional limitations. Also keep in mind that if you intend to accumulate used oil on-site you may become subject to the Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure requirements found at 40 CFR 112.

First of all, used oil is defined at 40 CFR 279.1 as,  “any oil that has been refined from crude oil, or any synthetic oil, that has been used and as a result of such use is contaminated by physical or chemical impurities.”  It can include:

  • Motor oil
  • Hydraulic fluid
  • Electrical insulating oils
  • Transmission fluid
  • Compressor oils

The advantages to burning used oil on-site for energy recovery as opposed to shipping it off-site for disposal include the following:

Better for the environment given the reduced resource consumption in collecting, transporting, and processing the oil at an off-site location.

Reduced disposal costs since you will be burning the waste on-site and no longer require a transporter and disposal facility to perform this role.

Reduced heating costs as you replace the fuels you typically purchase for consumption with Used Oil.


First you must determine if the used oil you generate and/or collect for energy recovery is Specification Used Oil orOff-Specification Used Oil.  If the concentration of constituents in your used oil is below the allowable levels identified in Table 1 of 40 CFR 279.11 and you comply with the requirements of 49 CFR 279.72, 279.73, and 279.74(b), see here for these requirements, then you have a Specification Used Oil that is not subject to the requirements of 40 CFR 279.  That means the oil can be burned for energy recovery in any device without US EPA restrictions.  See here for more information from US EPA about the determination and regulation of Specification Used Oil for energy recovery.   Note that mixtures of used oil and hazardous waste per 40 CFR 279.10(b) cannot be considered a Specification Used Oil.

If you generate an Off-Specification Used Oil, there are still options available to you for on-site energy recovery.  Pursuant to 40 CFR 279.12(c) Off-Specification Used Oil may be burned for energy recovery in only one of the following devices:

So, just what are the requirements of 40 CFR 279.23 that will allow you to burn Off-Specification Used Oil for energy recovery in a space heater at your facility?  First, the used oil must either be generated by the owner of the space heater – this includes off-site locations aggregated to one location – or be received directly from a Household “do-it-yourselfer” as defined at 40 CFR 279.1.  Secondly, the heater must have a design capacity not to exceed 0.5mmBtu/hr and the combustion emissions must be vented to the ambient air.  Burning of any used oil with PCB’s is subject to the requirements of 40 CFR 761.20(e).

Now let’s return to management of Specification Used Oil.  Remember that determining the constituent levels to be below the allowable levels of Table 1 of 40 CFR 279.11 is just the first part.  You must also comply with 40 CFR 279.72, 279.73, & 279.74(b).

  • 40 CFR 279.72 – You must maintain – for 3 years – records of analysis or other determination that the oil meets the requirements of 40 CFR 279.11.
  • 40 CFR 279.73 – If you don’t already have one, a US EPA identification number may be required for your site.
  • 40 CFR 279.74(b) – If the used oil is to be shipped off-site, you must maintain records of its shipment.  Note this does not require the use of a Uniform Hazardous Waste Manifest or Shipping Paper.  Carefully check your state regulators as I know there are some who disagree with the US EPA on this point.

Speaking of off-site transportation, you must ensure compliance with both US EPA and US DOT regulations for this activity.  Per 40 CFR 279.24 if using a common-carrier for off-site shipment, you must ensure the transporter has a US EPA identification number.  A generator may self-transport – without a US EPA identification number – used oil it’s generated to either an approved oil collection center or to an aggregation point it owns if it transports no more than 55 gallons at a time and uses a company or employee owned vehicle.

40 CFR 279.24 also includes relaxed requirements for “Tolling Arrangements” where used oil is shipped off-site for reclamation and returned to the generator.  Again, check closely with your states on this one.

It is unlikely, though possible, that an Off-Specification Used Oil – let alone a Specification Used Oil – will meet the US DOT definition of a hazardous material found at 49 CFR 171.8.  However, circumstances may vary and it is important for you to carefully review your used oil and the Hazardous Material Regulations (HMR) to determine the applicable US DOT requirements for transportation.

Used oil may represent a potential fuel combustion source you can use to heat your facility throughout the winter months.  Or, you may continue to ship used oil off-site for final disposal.  Please use the above information as a one component in determining what option works best for your facility.  Please feel free to contact me if you wish to share your experience with the combustion of used oil for energy recovery at your company.