Enviros petition EPA for fracking chemical disclosure

Oct 25, 2012

The Toxics Release Inventory was created in the 1980s, after 3,800 people died because of a toxic gas release at a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India.

Credit Environmental Impact Project

The inventory, known as TRI, is administered by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Every year, the release of certain toxic chemicals are reported to the EPA and compiled in a public database.

Originally created to monitor chemicals released by manufacturers, the EPA has the power to expand the list of participating industries. Since its inception, mining operations, and utilities have been added to the list.

Oil and gas extraction is not on the list. But the Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Integrity Project is now trying to change that.

On Wednesday, EIP launched an online petition to have oil and gas extraction and hydraulic fracturing added to the TRI. The project director, Eric Schaeffer, said listing oil and gas operations would simply apply the same rules to this industry that are already applied to many others.

"The refinery sector and chemical plants, they've been reporting toxic chemical releases for decades," said Schaeffer during a press conference Wednesday. "The fact that you file a report that says what you're putting into the environment does not mean that the next day you close the plant."

Credit Matt Richmond / WSKG

The minimum emissions threshold for reporting at any given facility is about what is released by seven or eight wells, says Adam Kron, an attorney with EIP.

Kron and other environmental advocates say that drilling operations where wells and processing tanks are clustered together should be measured as one facility; as opposed to assessing the environmental impact of individual wells or tanks separately.

Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York spokesperson (IOGA) Cherie Messore says the rule change is unnecessary, especially in New York.

"In New York State, the natural gas industry is already required to provide the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation with a listing of any or all chemicals used in the extraction process," says Messore.

However, those disclosures are often confidential because of intellectual property rights.

"Additionally, operators also voluntarily list all chemicals used on fracfocus.org, the user-friendly, searchable database of all energy related drilling sites," says Messore.

Eight states require disclosure of chemicals to FracFocus.org. But they do not include total amounts used, only the percentage of the frack fluid for each chemical, and the reporting is only for chemicals used in fracturing fluid.

The site, which is administered by industry and the Groundwater Protection Council, gives the following reason for exclusion from the TRI:

This is not an exemption in the law. Rather it is a decision by EPA that this industry is not a high priority for reporting under TRI. Part of the rationale for this decision is based on the fact that most of the information required under TRI is already reported by producers to state agencies that make it publicly available. Also, TRI reporting from the hundreds of thousands of oil and gas sites would overwhelm the existing EPA reporting system and make it difficult to extract meaningful data from the massive amount of information submitted.

Bruce Baizel, a staff attorney with Earthworks, says the reporting on FracFocus and the federal government's reporting requirements are all inadequate.

"There is no functional way on any kind of reporting website such as FracFocus to aggregate the volume of toxic chemicals being used for a particular state or geographic region," says Baziel.