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Ohio Chemicals Disclosure Rules Scrutinized

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is probing a chemical emergency at an oil well facility in January, where an inventory of chemicals wasn't available to first responders as required under federal law.

A coalition of environmental and community groups petitioned the EPA Region V office, which covers Ohio, concerning an incident at an oil well facility on Jan. 16 near St. Marys in Auglaize County because the groups said there had been violations of the federal Energy Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA).

The 40-acre oilfield is owned by area resident Jay Elshoff, who leased the land to Innex Energy of Plano, TX. Following the leak, the operation was ordered shut down by state officials. An investigation found two releases from a holding tank and a field tile. The tanks may hold up to 240 bbl, or more than 10,000 gallons of crude oil.

Auglaize County Emergency Management Agency Director Troy Anderson said in press accounts at the time that when responders were called to the site, there was "no paperwork on this, and we should have had" it. "This is no different than a factory; we should have a list of hazardous conditions at the site, a drawing, how it operates and who to call in an emergency." St. Marys Township Fire Department also had no required information on file, reports indicated.

The Center for Health, Environment & Justice, the Sierra Club and ProgressOhio, among others, asked authorities to investigate whether the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) oil and gas regulatory program was in compliance with federal rules. State rules have to be at least as stringent as federal requirements, or federal rules nearly always supersede them.

The complaint alleges that the state was out of compliance with EPCRA, which requires, among other things, an up-to-date and available material safety data sheet (MSDS) for every hazardous chemical in a facility. Innex had filed the information with ODNR, as required under state law, but not with local authorities.

The group's petition, filed by Teresa Mills of Grove City, OH, claims that the state "essentially exempts the oil and gas industry" from EPCRA requirements, and the situation "was further compounded" in 2012, when the state enacted rules "which divert trade secret determination authority" from EPA and "unduly restrict citizens' ability to challenge trade secret claims" (see Shale Daily, May 29, 2012).

The petition asked EPA to review the situation and formally determine whether the state's laws violate EPCRA, and if they are determined to be out of compliance, "undertake enforcement actions against oil and gas facilities operating in Ohio that remain in noncompliance with EPCRA's requirements."

In response to the group's complaint, U.S. Region V Superfund Division Director Richard Karl said the "alternate compliance method appears to be considered compliance" with Ohio law. However, the compliance method "does not designate (or attempt to designate) alternate compliance methods for federal EPCRA law..." And Ohio's law "does not supersede" EPCRA, he said.

"Citizens have a right to full information regarding chemicals in their communities," Mills said Wednesday. "We cannot allow any state agency to serve as a smoke screen, cloaking our right to know."

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