EPA May Require Fracking Chemical Disclosures

Oil and gas mining companies have long been criticized by environmentalists for not disclosing the chemical make-up of fluids they inject underground at high pressure as part of a natural gas extraction process, known as hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”. However, federal environmental regulators are now reportedly planing to force the companies to release that information.  

On May 9, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR) for hydraulic fracturing chemicals and mixtures, which many anticipate will include required disclosure about what chemicals are contained in the millions of gallons of liquids injected into the ground at thousands of sites throughout the country on a daily basis.

Details of the proposed rule are not yet available, but the EPA notes that an official version of the ANPR will soon be published in the Federal Register and the agency will then take public comment on the proposed rule.

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Hydraulic fracturing, which is more commonly known as hydrofracking or just “fracking,” is a controversial process of gas extraction where a mixture of water, sand and fluids that the gas industry has fought to keep secret is injected into the ground at extremely high pressure, cracking shale deposits and freeing trapped natural gas, which can then be removed. Those fluids are then sucked from the ground and often disposed of in wastewater wells.

Fracking has come under increasing scrutiny over the last several years. It has become a popular method of gas extraction, due to new drilling techniques and the discovery of large shale reserves throughout the eastern seaboard. It first began to boom in Wyoming and Montana’s Powder River Basin region, but now it has spread across the east coast in thousands of well sites in New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

Hydrofracking Concerns

There are a number of environmental concerns surrounding the fracking process. Residents near hydraulic fracturing sites have reported air pollution, dust problems, and claim that the fracking fluids contain pollutants that contaminate groundwater.

More recently, some geologists say hydraulic fracturing is causing earthquakes. Studies suggest that the intense pressure from the unidentified fluids can cause ground tremors violent enough to damage property and cause injuries and possibly deaths.

On May 9, in response to the ANPR posting the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC), a leading environmental organization, called on the EPA to make a comprehensive rule that truly reveals what chemicals are present in fracking fluids.

“It’s time for the administration to demand answers about the chemicals that are being used to frack in our communities,” said Matthew McFeeley, an NRDC attorney. “For too long, the oil and gas industry has been allowed to keep their chemical cocktails a secret, while injecting them underground alongside drinking water sources, storing them in families’ backyards and transporting them through neighborhood streets. Even emergency room doctors have been refused answers necessary to treat patients who have been exposed to fracking chemicals.”

The proposed rule comes just a couple weeks after a Texas jury awarded $2.9 million in damages to a family who sued a hydraulic fracturing company for being a public nuisance. According allegations raised in a fracking lawsuit filed by the Parr family, nearly two dozen wells near their property caused a private nuisance, exposing them to toxic chemicals that damaged their health and lowered property value.

Environmentalists, a number of lawmakers, local communities and consumer advocacy groups have expressed concerns for years that hydrofracking presents a threat to groundwater supplies and the environment.

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