EPA considers requiring companies to disclose fracking chemicals

The Environmental Protection Agency has signaled that it may create a national standard for reporting chemicals used in fracking, StateImpact Pennsylvania reported.

The federal agency said it is seeking public comment on the possibility of requiring companies to report the chemicals they use in the process of hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking.

Asking for public input is a precursor to rulemaking, but the request is not an assurance that the EPA will create a new regulation.

States currently determine their own disclosure rules.

In Pennsylvania, companies are allowed to claim an exemption for chemicals deemed to be proprietary or “trade secrets.”

Otherwise, companies operating in the state disclose chemical information on the industry-sponsored website FracFocus.org.

Just how useful those disclosures are depends on who you ask.

According to StateImpact:

A spokesman for the industry trade group, the Marcellus Shale Coalition, said Pennsylvania’s disclosure regulations could be held up as a model.

“We look forward to assisting EPA as this process advances and showcasing Pennsylvania’s strong regulatory framework and the best practices that our members adhere to across their operations,” he said in a statement.

However, many environmental groups are skeptical of regulations that allow for trade secret exemptions, which they say only fuels the public’s distrust of the industry.

StateImpact is a collaboration of NPR radio stations WITF and WHYY and a partner of PublicSource.

The EPA is also asking how companies might be incentivized to disclose information and create safer formulas. The agency also wants input on how to minimize the cost of potential reporting rules.

Oilfield services company Baker Hughes recently announced that it would stop using a trade-secrets exemption, the article said.

Amy Mall, a senior policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said all companies should follow that example.

“It doesn’t make fracking safe,” she told StateImpact, “but what it does do is give the public and local officials and first responders and hospitals the information that’s needed in case something goes wrong.

The EPA comment period lasts 90 days.

Reach Jeffrey Benzing at jbenzing@publicsource.org or at 412-315-0265.