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US mulls mandate to disclose fracking chemicals

05.09.2014  | 

Environmental groups have been pressing the agency to collect information on the fluids injected into the underground rocks, saying they may be a danger to human health or the environment.

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By MARK DRAJEM
Bloomberg

The US Environmental Protection Agency took the first formal step toward requiring oil and gas drillers to disclose the chemicals they use in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

The agency on Friday announced the start of a process that could result in companies being forced to report to the government, and possibly the public, the chemicals they add to sand and water to break apart shale rock and release oil and gas trapped deep underground. The government also said it is considering ways to encourage the development and use of safer chemicals in fracking.

“Today’s announcement represents an important step in increasing the public’s access to information on chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing,” James Jones, the EPA’s assistant administrator for chemical safety, said in a statement. Rules worked out with state and local agencies will “complement but not duplicate existing reporting requirements,” he said.

Environmental groups have been pressing the agency to collect information on the fluids injected into the underground rocks, saying they may be a danger to human health or the environment. Some drillers have opposed such a step, saying their recipes are trade secrets.

“We want to be sure that there is some agency that actually is collecting this information about what is being used in these shale plays across the country,” said Deborah Goldberg, a lawyer at Earthjustice, which asked the agency in 2011 to require more data on the chemicals. “The disclosure we are getting right now is spotty.”

Gas Boom

The agency said in 2011 that it would consider gathering the information under a provision of the toxic substances act. The agency is today taking the next step.

Fracking has led to a natural-gas boom in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Texas, sparking opposition among some residents who say the technology may contaminate drinking water and add to air and soil pollution. Many drilling companies are disclosing chemical information on the industry website FracFocus.org. Some states require drillers to submit data to the site.

Critics say the website allows too many exemptions that keep ingredients secret and doesn’t permit easy aggregation of information.

Baker Hughes, the world’s third-largest oilfield services provider, in April said it will disclose all the chemicals used in fracking fluids after negotiating with suppliers and customers, Melanie Kania, a spokeswoman for the Houston-based company, said.

White House adviser John Podesta said this week that the administration of President Barack Obama would let the states keep the primary responsibility for regulating fracking.

“I think we’re trying to work with the states to ensure that people can be reassured,” Podesta said at a forum. “The issue around particularly fracking fluids is largely managed at the state level.”



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