The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is asking questions about the fluids used in hydraulic fracturing, the gas drilling technique also known as fracking. The agency, which has embarked on a major study to examine the impact of fracking on human health and the environment, said yesterday it would ask nine big natural-gas production companies to voluntarily disclose what is contained in their fracking fluids.
Thanks to a move by Congress in 2005, fracking is exempt from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act, so drillers donâ€™t have to disclose what is contained in their fracking fluids. What few studies have been done , however, have found that these fluids often contain toxins like barium, strontium, benzene, glycol-ethers, toluene, 2-(2-methoxyethoxy) ethanol, and nonylphenols. All have been linked to health disorders when human exposure is too high.
Hydraulic fracturing has been blamed for contaminating water in several places around the country. As part of the fracking study it announced in March, the EPA has been holding public meetings in major oil and gas production regions to get citizen, industry, and expert input.
The EPA is now sending letters to nine gas-drilling companies, BJ Services, Complete Production Services, Halliburton, Key Energy Services, Patterson-UTI, PRC Inc., Schlumberger, Superior Well Services, and Weatherford, asking for the make-up of their fracking fluids. The agency said the information is needed to complete its fracking study.
“By sharing information about the chemicals and methods they are using, these companies will help us make a thorough and efficient review of hydraulic fracturing and determine the best path forward,” EPA head Lisa Jackson said in a statement.
According to a Reuters report, while the EPAâ€™s initial request was for voluntary disclosure, the agency said it was prepared to use its authority to “require the information needed to carry out its study.â€
Once the EPA has that information, it’s doubtful that it will be released to the public. By law, the agency can’t release any information considered trade secrets by the companies to the public, Reuters said.
Reports of water contamination linked to fracking have spurred momentum for better regulation of the industry. The so-called FRAC Act, which is currently being considered in the US Congress, would eliminate the exemption to the Safe Drinking Water Act. And later this month, Wyoming will become the first state to require that gas drillers disclose the ingredients in their fracking fluid. Wyoming regulators have also said that information would be made available to the public.
Some gas drillers are trying to head off regulation by offering to voluntarily disclose the contents of their fracking fluids. Earlier this summer, we reported that Texas-based Range Resources, which pioneered drilling in Pennsylvaniaâ€™s Marcellus shale, had made such a move. Chief Oil & Gas LLC recently said it would make such disclosures to state officials in Pennsylvania and West Virginia starting October.