Environmentalists Ready TRI Fracking Petition
Environmentalists are preparing a petition urging EPA to add the oil and gas industry to the existing list of sectors required to report chemical usage to the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) as a way to expand federal disclosure requirements for hydraulic fracturing and other phases of drilling.
A host of environmental groups, including the Environmental Integrity Project, Earthworks and others are planning to submit to EPA Oct. 24 a petition asking the agency to add the oil and gas industry to the list of industry sectors already regulated under section 313 (b)(1)(B) of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) the statute that houses TRI, Earthworks policy advocate Aaron Mintzes writes in an Oct. 19 blog post.
The groups will argue that the current exemption for the oil and gas extraction industries “makes no sense given the huge amounts of toxic chemicals involved that have only increased with the rapid rise of fracking,” they say in a press advisory announcing the petition. “Since oil and gas facilities are currently not required to report such data, the full scope of environmental and public health risks to citizens and communities is not known.”
One environmentalist says that the petition is significant because EPCRA represents one of the few federal statutes that, while it currently exempts the oil and gas industry from reporting requirements, could be applied to the industry under existing EPA rulemaking authority without legislative action.
“We’re big fans of TRI,” the source says, adding that the inventory has proved useful in making available information related to hardrock mining pollution. “It’s a really, really important tool.”
A 2005 energy law exempted oil and gas development from regulation under several major environmental statutes, including barring permitting of fracking operations under the Safe Drinking Water Act and regulation of uncontaminated stormwater runoff under the Clean Water Act.
Environmentalists have sought increased disclosure of chemicals used in fracking fluid, stemming from concerns about potential groundwater contamination. Industry has been seen moving toward acceptance of state disclosure rules, and has collaborated with states in crafting FracFocus, a voluntary reporting website that recently upgraded its features to allow users to search the database by chemical name, date and chemical identification number.
Under EPCRA, EPA may opt to add industry sectors to the list of those required to submit chemical data to TRI. The agency has rarely exercised this authority, however. The Clinton EPA in 1996 and 1997 added coal mining and metal mining to the inventory, but opted not to include oil and gas.
Mintzes writes that the recent boom in natural gas development, which has moved the industry into more densely populated areas in the eastern United States, should be a factor in EPA revisiting the issue. “This recent and drastic change in the industry’s complexion combined with its softening position against disclosure should compel the EPA to take another look at including the sector in the TRI,” the blog post says. “The widespread use of newer technologies like horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing create a completely different picture of how the industry operates,” because they cover a vastly greater subsurface area.