EPA Announces Plan to Collect Fracking Fluid Data

Makers and processors of hydraulic fracturing fluids will be required to provide the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with privately held health and safety data on their products. According to a report from Reuters, the EPA said it will propose a new rule to gather the fracking fluid data using its authority under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

The EPA made the announcement in response to a petition filed in August by EarthJustice and some 120 other environmental and public health groups seeking a rule requiring oil and natural gas producers to reveal substances used in fracking. The EPA said on its website yesterday that it will begin gathering data in an attempt to provide “aggregate pictures of the chemical substances and mixtures used in hydraulic fracturing.” However, the agency also informed the petitioners that it is not granting the request to require toxicity testing because the petition does not satisfy the required TSCA statutory requirements for additional testing. The EPA also denied a request that other chemicals used in oil and gas exploration and production be disclosed as well.

“This would not duplicate, but instead complement, the well-by-well disclosure programs of states,” an EPA official said in the letter to EarthJustice, posted on the agency’s website, according to Reuters.

In hydraulic fracturing, fracking fluids, which may contain benzene and other toxic chemicals, are injected into the ground at high pressure to shake loose gas and oil deposits. Fracking regulation is largely left to the states; because of a loophole in the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, energy companies are not required to disclose the chemicals used in the fluids to the EPA. Opponents of fracking are concerned that this type of natural gas drilling could lead to pollution of vital drinking water sources, either through the release of naturally-occurring hazardous substances from underground, or as a result of spills or leaks involving fracking fluid or fracking wastewater.

In 2010, the U.S. Congress directed the EPA to conduct a comprehensive study of fracking’s impact on water quality and the environment. Opponents of fracking hope the EPA study, which is expected to be concluded in 2012, will lead to federal oversight of the industry. According to Reuters, the EPA also plans to propose standards by 2014 on wastewater discharged from gas wells, is studying the impact of fracking on drinking water, and will also finalize new standards on air pollution from gas wells.

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