Lawsuit Against EPA Seeks Public Release of Data on Fracking Chemicals

A number of environmental groups are pursuing a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), seeking to force the agency to require gas mining companies to notify the public what chemicals are used in controversial hydraulic fracturing wells, which inject massive amounts of fluids into the ground. 

The complaint (PDF) was filed on Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by nine different organizations, including environmental and open government groups, naming the EPA and administrator Gina McCarthy as defendants.

The EPA lawsuit seeks to require the government to make public the list of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing processes, which gas mining companies have claimed are corporate secrets protected from disclosure.

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The groups say that the EPA’s own estimates indicate that oil and gas mining releases more toxic air pollution than any other industry except power plants. However, the EPA has for decades acquiesced to industry demands that the chemicals used in those processes, which the groups say are often toxic, remain secret.

“Due to EPA’s long inaction, the oil and gas extraction industry remains except from the Toxics Release Inventory, one of our nation’s most basic toxic reporting mechanisms,” Environmental Integrity Project attorney Adam Kron said in a press release. “The Toxic Release Inventory requires just one thing: annual reporting to the public. This reporting is critical to health, community planning, and informed decision making. Whether to add the oil and gas extraction industry shouldn’t even be a question at this point.”

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves the injection of a mixture of water, sand and fluids, which the gas industry has fought to keep secret, 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 Pollution Concerns

The controversial fracking process has come under increasing scrutiny over the last several years, as it has become a more popular method of gas extraction with the development of new drilling techniques and the discovery of large shale reserves.

Critics have linked fracking to a variety of pollutants, claiming it puts groundwater sources at risk and that increased truck traffic, air pollution and other problems can reduce property values and sicken nearby residents.

The lawsuit comes on the heels of a decision by the state of New York to ban hydraulic fracturing, after a state study found questions and concerns regarding the safety of large-scale extraction wells.

State officials said that a six-year study’s findings indicate dozens of significant potential adverse impacts, and found that the risks of high-volume hydraulic fracturing outweigh any potential economic benefits.

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.

Earlier this year, a Texas jury awarded $2.9 million in damages to a family who sued a hydraulic fracturing company for being a public nuisance. According to 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.

Recently, a number of studies have shown that there may be a link between fracking and earthquakes, suggesting that the intense pressure from the unidentified fluids can cause ground tremors violent enough to damage property and cause injuries and possibly deaths.

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