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EPA Asked to Include Oil, Gas Toxic Risks Reporting

October 29, 2012
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Seventeen environmental groups last Wednesday filed a petition with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to include the oil and gas extraction industry, particularly hydraulic fracturing (fracking) operations, in its Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) reporting requirements.

"TRI reporting is already required of most other energy industries, including coal," said the Environmental Integrity Project, Natural Resources Defense Council and other environmental groups. "The loophole 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," the groups said.

"The industry has grown vastly, but regulation, disclosure, and public information have not kept pace. Consequently, the oil and gas extraction industry warrants listing now more than ever, and EPA must take action and finally add the industry to coverage under the TRI," they said in the petition. "In the last decade alone, the number of wells, storage tanks, production and processing facilities within the oil and gas extraction industry has increased dramatically, and the variety of toxic chemicals manufactured, processed or otherwise used by the industry has expanded significantly," the petition noted.

While legislation has been proposed on federal disclosure requirements, "it has stalled in Congress," the petition said. And the Bureau of Land Management's [BLM] proposed disclosure rules that thave been proposed would apply only to fracking on federal or Indian lands (see NGI, May 7). The rules "have not been finalized, and may be altered or weakened before finalization."

The state disclosure laws "are either nonexistent or riddled with gaps. For one, these laws generally apply only to chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, yet even in this context they are woefully inadequate...Moreover, the industry lacks sufficient coverage under substantive federal environmental laws...There is simply no adequate, comprehensive framework to ensure that information as to toxic chemicals used in oil and gas extraction is made available to the public," the petition said.

"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. The toxics-related risks include air pollution, drinking water contamination and discharges to rivers and streams." The petition noted that "the communities that host this rapidly growing industry have the right to know what is being released to their environment."

According to FracFocus Chemical Disclosure Registry, the EPA's decision not to require oil and gas extraction industry to report under TRI was not an exemption under the law. Rather the agency found that the industry was not a high priority for reporting under TRI.

Part of the rationale for the EPA's decision was based on the fact that most of the information required under TRI is already reported by producers to state agencies, which make it publicly available. Also, TRI reporting from 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 registry noted.

TRI collects information about chemical releases and waste management reported by major industrial facilities in the U.S. The TRI database was established by Section 313 of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know Act of 1986. The law requires industrial facilities in specific sectors to report their environmental releases and waste management practices annually to the EPA. Covered facilities must disclose their releases of close to 650 toxic chemicals to air, water and land, as well as the quantities of chemicals they recycle, treat, burn or otherwise dispose of on-site and off-site.

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