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By Pat Rizzuto
May 9 --The Environmental Protection Agency is considering a rulemaking that might require chemical manufacturers and processors, as well as oil and gas exploration companies, to report on chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing.
In an advance notice of proposed rulemaking, the EPA said it is seeking information from industries, state agencies and others on the range of data the agency should obtain about chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing.
The EPA is asking for comment on whether it should obtain that information voluntarily or through regulations.
Hydraulic fracturing is widely used to enhance oil or natural gas production, especially from shale formations. Chemicals are added to water and sand in fracking fluid to control such factors as the viscosity and friction of the fluid and to limit corrosion and microbial growth in a well.
The basic chemicals in fracking fluids are widely known. However, the specific mixtures are often classified as confidential business information, yet could yield different adverse health or environmental effects.
Environmental and citizen groups have said they are concerned that the fluids used in fracking could contaminate groundwater and subsequently drinking water supplies.
Interested parties will have 90 days to provide comment on scoping and procedural questions once the agency publishes an advance notice of proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register. The agency released a prepublication version of the notice May 9.
The agency's information-collection effort could encompass hundreds of chemicals and chemical mixtures that companies use to extract shale gas. The American Chemistry Council said the availability and low cost of shale gas and oil is driving investment in new factories, expansions and process changes that could increase chemical manufacturing capacity to $81 billion per year by 2023.
A 2011 report by Democratic staff of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce said that between 2005 and 2009, 14 oil and gas service companies used more than 2,500 hydraulic fracturing products containing 750 chemicals and other components. The gas service companies used 780 million gallons of hydraulic fracturing products during the same period, the report said.
In its notice, the EPA asked for comment on dozens of questions on issues including how to protect trade secrets and how possibly to reduce possible duplication of state disclosure requirements. At least 18 states require companies to disclose the identity of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, according to the Geological Society of America.
The EPA asked questions about who should be required to provide information to the agency because hundreds of chemical manufacturers, chemical suppliers, companies that mix chemicals on-site and service providers that inject hydraulic fracturing fluids into wells could be required to provide reports or be encouraged to provide information voluntarily.
The agency also asked what strategies it could use to encourage the development and use of chemicals that are safer than those for which they would substitute.
The American Petroleum Institute said a new rulemaking to govern fracking fluids isn't needed. “A new EPA rulemaking on this subject is unnecessary and duplicative. Robust chemical information is already available to EPA, as well as state regulators that are the primary regulators for oil and gas operations,” API spokesman Zachary Cikanek said.
API strongly supports the use of the FracFocus website to provide the public with factual information on the chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process and information on industry operations, Cikanek said.
The FracFocus website is hosted by the Ground Water Protection Council (GWPC) and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC) to provide a central location where industry may voluntarily provide information for the public on the chemicals used during the process of hydraulic fracturing of oil or gas wells.
The website is an important resource and is used by hundreds of well operators, both voluntarily and in accordance with the laws in many states, Cikanek said. Since 2011, at least 821 individual companies participated in FracFocus, including 615 reporting companies that disclosed information on more than 68,300 oil and gas wells, according to Cikanek.
Deborah Goldberg, a managing attorney with Earthjustice, told Bloomberg BNA May 9 that regulations to collect the information are needed, otherwise companies provide only the information they want the public to see.
The advantage of a national requirement would be to provide consistency in the collection of information and equal access to the information, Goldberg said.
Some states are asking the companies operating wells--not chemical manufacturers--to disclose the chemicals they use, but the operating companies may not know what compounds are in their fracking fluids, she said.
Further, while some states have disclosure requirements on their books, some such as Wyoming fail to enforce them, she said.
The EPA has the authority to ask a wide variety of industries to report on chemicals they make or use, and it has one of the better systems for vetting claims that the chemicals are trade secrets while providing public access to key information, she said.
A nationwide regulation would gives consistency across the board, Goldberg said. “There's no reason why your right to information that affects your health should depend on where you live.”
The information-collection effort stems from a petition filed in August 2011 by Earthjustice for a Toxic Substances Control Act rulemaking. The organization asked the EPA to require the identity of chemicals and chemical mixtures used in hydraulic fracturing to be publicly disclosed and for manufacturers and processors to be required to conduct toxicity tests of the compounds .
The EPA partially denied that petition, but it said it would proceed to solicit views on the design and scope of possible TSCA rules .
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The prepublication version of the EPA's advance notice of proposed rulemaking is available at http://op.bna.com/env.nsf/r?Open=prio-9jxlz3.
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