EPA will seek comments on disclosing frac fluid ingredients

This story was updated on May 9 and May 10.

The US Environmental Protection Agency announced it will seek public comment on what information could be reported and disclosed for hydraulic fracturing chemicals and mixtures and the approaches for obtaining this information.

Ideas about incentives and recognition programs that could support the development and use of safer chemicals in hydraulic fracturing also will be solicited, EPA said in a May 9 advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR).

Comments will be accepted for 90 days following the ANPR’s publication in the Federal Register early next week, it indicated.

“Today’s announcement represents an important step in increasing the public’s access to information on chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing activities,” said James Jones, EPA’s assistant administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention.

“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,” he continued.

Many oil and gas producers and their fracing service suppliers already disclose the information voluntarily at FracFocus, which the Interstate Oil & Gas Compact Commission and the Groundwater Protection Council jointly operate.

More is needed

An official at Earthjustice, which 3 years ago petitioned EPA with 114 other environmental and public interest groups to require full frac fluid ingredient disclosure, said federal regulation is necessary and welcomed the agency’s announcement for two reasons.

“First, some states ask the fracing companies, not the chemical manufacturers, to disclose the chemicals in their frac fluids,” said Deborah Goldberg, managing attorney for the environmental organization’s fracing litigation program. Fracing service companies sometimes say that even they don’t know what chemicals are in the fluids because manufacturers claim it’s a trade secret, and disclosure ends there, she said.

“Second, the oil and gas industry has a bad track record on transparency, so we can’t rely on a voluntary system to get full information,” Goldberg continued. “We need an enforceable rule that requires reporting from all manufacturers and processors of chemicals used in the development process.”

She maintained, “At the very least, EPA should know everything. Also, because EPA has one of the better systems for vetting claims that the chemicals are trade secrets or otherwise confidential, required reporting increases the chances that the public will get the information too.”

In a statement issued May 9, the American Chemistry Council said, “As an industry undergoing a historic expansion made possible by increased supplies of domestic natural gas, we support policies that encourage robust production while protecting health and the environment.

CBI protection necessary

“We are committed to transparency in the disclosure of chemical ingredients of fracturing solutions, subject to protection of confidential business information (CBI),” ACC said. It said as it assesses EPA’s ANPR and develops its response, it is concerned about recent US Department of Energy decisions in which it believes transparency and CBI are “starkly out of balance.”

It noted that it told Sec. of Energy Ernest J. Moniz in an Apr. 9 letter that it believes a Secretary of Energy Advisory Board (SEAB) taskforce’s recommendations discounted “the competitive value of an industry’s intellectual property regardless of whether a health or environmental concern is implicated.”

ACC said, “Its approach puts at risk the innovation that makes US products more competitive in global markets. Unfortunately, SEAB chose to support the taskforce’s flawed recommendations. We hope the administration will encourage growth and competitiveness in US manufacturing by strengthening its protection for CBI.”

But an American Petroleum Institute spokesman said a new EPA frac fluid ingredient disclosure rulemaking 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,” he told OGJ by e-mail on May 9.

API strongly supports FracFocus, and considers the web site an important resource that hundreds of well operators use, both voluntarily and in accordance with many states’ laws, the spokesman continued. “As of Mar. 18, 821 individual companies participate in FracFocus, including 615 reporting companies that have disclosed information regarding over 68,300 oil and gas wells since 2011,” he said.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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