Oct. 23, 2012 – 2:57 p.m.

Environmentalists to Open New Front in ‘Fracking’ Fight

Environmentalists will launch a new line of attack on hydraulic fracturing on Wednesday when they urge the EPA to require the oil and gas industry to disclose the chemicals used in the drilling practice.

The Environmental Integrity Project, along with the Natural Resources Defense Council and 15 other environmental groups, will petition the EPA to make oil and gas producers follow the reporting requirements of the Toxics Release Inventory, according to a news advisory.

Established by Congress in a 1986 law (PL 99-499) after thousands of residents died from the accidental release of chemicals from a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, the Toxics Release Inventory requires many industries to submit to the EPA annual lists of the chemicals that they use.

The information is then compiled in a public database that is searchable by ZIP code on EPA’s website. The agency says the inventory lists information about more than 650 toxic chemicals from thousands of industrial sites. Industry has long criticized the reporting requirements as overly burdensome.

The environmental groups note that coal and other energy industries are subject to reporting to the Toxics Release Inventory, and they argue that the EPA should close the “loophole” for oil and gas companies in light of the expansion of hydraulic fracturing in recent years.

Also known as fracking, the practice involves blasting large volumes of a pressurized mix of water, sand and chemicals underground to free oil and gas trapped in rock formations.

The process, largely responsible for the current glut of domestic gas that was previously inaccessible, is mostly exempt from federal regulation. Congressional Democrats have pressed for legislation that would require companies to disclose the chemicals they use in fracking. Industry has resisted greater federal oversight, insisting that state governments are adequately regulating the practice. Companies have objected to disclosing the chemicals they use, contending that they are trade secrets.

The oil and gas exemption from the Toxics Release Inventory originates with the EPA and is not in statute, according to FracFocus, a website where companies can upload information about fracking wells.

“Part of the rationale for this decision is based on the fact that most of the information required under [the Toxics Release Inventory] is already reported by producers to state agencies that make it publicly available,” says the website, which is a vehicle for voluntary reporting that is increasingly becoming the preferred clearinghouse of fracking information for many states.

Reporting the chemicals used at “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,” the website said.

The environmentalists argue in their news release that the “full scope of environmental and public health risks to citizens and communities is not known” because oil and gas operations are not subject to reporting.

The upcoming petition poses a new regulatory challenge to the fracking boom, which has been embraced by President Obama and his Republican opponent, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

An industry-sponsored study released Tuesday by IHS CERA estimated that shale energy is responsible for $62 billion in tax revenue in 2012 alone and will create 2.5 million jobs by 2015.