Petition Seeks Information on Toxic Fracking Emissions

by Sofia Plagakis, 10/24/2012

Today, OMB Watch and 16 local, regional, and national organizations filed a petition under the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), calling on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to require the oil and gas industry – including companies engaged in fracking – to report their toxic emissions. Such reporting would provide EPA with more information on the identity, use, and quantity of chemicals used by the oil and gas industry and would help the agency evaluate their health and environmental risks.

Oil and gas extraction facilities are not covered under the TRI program, even though they use numerous toxic chemicals and produce tons of hazardous waste, which pose a serious risk to Americans' health. For example, EPA estimates that the industry as a whole emits 127,000 tons of hazardous air pollutants every year, including benzene (known to cause cancer). Of the 2,500 products used in fracking, a process used to extract natural gas, more than 650 contain known carcinogens and other hazardous substances, according to a 2011 congressional report.

An exemption in the 2005 Energy Policy Act, referred to as the Halliburton loophole, prevents the EPA from regulating fracking under the Safe Drinking Water Act. But the agency has the authority to require the entire oil and gas extraction industry to report releases of toxic chemicals under the TRI program.

While some states have laws and rules that require some disclosure of the chemicals used in fracking, they are considered insufficient. "No state is requiring enough upfront collection of baseline data and ongoing monitoring to adequately protect local water supplies and public health. Citizens need adequate information to evaluate the potential risks of allowing fracking in their communities," said Sean Moulton, director of Federal Information Policy at OMB Watch. "At the federal level, the EPA should add the oil and gas extraction industry to the Toxics Release Inventory program to help fill the information gap that currently exists."

The TRI program, established under the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA) of 1986, has been a flagship example of the impact of transparency. Companies have reduced the amount of toxins they release by more than half, often to avoid embarrassment, save money, or for other purposes.

The petition comes amid substantial expansion of U.S. natural gas and oil production, including fracking. The public needs to know – and has a right to know – what harmful substances these facilities are releasing.

UPDATE: A recording of the teleconference announcing the petition is available online.

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