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EPA Seeks Guidance on What Fracking Chemicals, Mixtures Should be Disclosed

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Friday launched an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR) to allow stakeholders and the public to comment about what hydraulic fracturing (fracking) chemicals and mixtures should be disclosed.

The ANPR is seeking input on the "approaches for obtaining this information, including nonregulatory approaches," according to officials. In addition, EPA wants comments on possible "incentives and recognition programs" to develop safer chemicals for unconventional drilling and completion activities.

The announcement "represents an important step in increasing the public's access to information on chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing activities," said EPA Assistant Administrator James Jones of the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention.

The ANPR follows EPA's decision in 2013 to develop proposed drilling chemical disclosure rules (see Shale DailyJuly 12, 2013). More than 100 groups in 2011 petitioned the agency to require, among other things, that exploration and production chemical substances and mixtures be reported and that studies submitted about health and safety. EPA denied the full request as too broad, but it partially granted a review under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which in turn triggered the ANPR.

Although EPA partially granted the TSCA petition, officials said at that time that it would not commit to a "specific" outcome. "Our expectation is that the TSCA proposal would focus on providing aggregate pictures of the chemical substances and mixtures used in hydraulic fracturing," EPA stated. "This would not duplicate, but instead complement, the well-by-well disclosure programs of the states."

Baker Hughes Inc., the third largest oilfield services provider, in April said it would disclose 100% of its fracking chemicals by providing "complete lists" of the products used (see Shale DailyApril 25). However, Baker indicated there could be some exemptions, depending on customers' acceptance.

Many operators voluntarily disclose drilling chemical information through FracFocus.org, the national chemical registry managed by the Groundwater Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission. About half of U.S. states mandate that the drilling chemicals be disclosed, including some that use FracFocus as a reporting tool.

However, critics have claimed FracFocus gives operators cover by allowing them to declare as trade secrets some mixtures used to stimulate production. An Energy Department task force in March reported that most (84%) of the wells registered on FracFocus used the exemption for at least one chemical (see Shale DailyMarch 6). The number of wells in the registry rose to 62,410 in 2013 from 14,246 in 2011.

White House adviser John Podesta said in a briefing this week that President Obama wanted to allow states to maintain primary authority to regulate unconventional drilling.

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

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Interior continues to finalize regulations for frack stimulation practices on public lands, which would apply to about 700 million acres of federal lands and 56 million acres of lands controlled by recognized Native American tribes (see Shale Daily, March 4Dec. 4, 2013).

Operators use stimulation methods for almost all unconventional drilling completions.

The ANPR is designed to help inform EPA's efforts "to promote transparency and safety" in unconventional drilling, in combination with its mission to protect the nation's air, water and land,” EPA officials said.

"EPA looks forward to hearing from the public and stakeholders about public disclosure of chemicals used during hydraulic fracturing, and we will continue working with our federal, state, local and tribal partners to ensure that we complement but not duplicate existing reporting requirements," Jones said.

The proposed rulemaking includes a list of questions for stakeholders and the public to consider as they develop their comments. Following a three-month comment period, EPA would evaluate the submitted responses "as it considers appropriate next steps."

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