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EPA Accepts Environmental Petition on Fracking Chemicals

MARCELLUS SHALE
The Marcellus Shale, located in the U.S. Northeast, contains natural gas, which is obtained through hydraulic fracturing, a technique in which millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals are pumped underground to break apart the rock. Photograph by Julia Schmalz/Bloomberg

Nov. 23 (Bloomberg) -- The Environmental Protection Agency said it will weigh rules requiring disclosure of the chemicals used in hydraulic-fracturing fluids.

Companies such as Halliburton Co. and Schlumberger Ltd., which supply oil and natural-gas producers, should be required to reveal substances used in the mining technology known as fracking, according to a petition filed with the EPA by the environmental group Earthjustice. In a response posted on its website today, the EPA said it will begin gathering that data.

The EPA will try to provide “aggregate pictures of the chemical substances and mixtures used in hydraulic fracturing,” Stephen A. Owens, an assistant administrator at the agency said in a letter to Deborah Goldberg, an attorney for Earthjustice. “This would not duplicate, but instead complement, the well-by-well disclosure programs of states.”

Fracking has led to a natural-gas boom in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Texas, producing opposition among some residents and environmental groups that say the technology may contaminate drinking water and add to air and soil pollution. Millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals are injected underground, cracking rock to free trapped gas or oil.

Earthjustice, an environmental-law firm based in San Francisco, was among groups that petitioned the EPA in August under the Toxic Substances Control Act to require makers of fracturing fluid to release the ingredients in their products, data on health and environmental effects and reports of adverse reactions.

Partial Denial

The EPA turned down another part of the organizations’ request, telling the groups on Nov. 2 that it wouldn’t mandate toxicity testing for each of the chemicals. Today it also denied a request that chemicals used in all types of oil and gas exploration and production be disclosed as well.

Extraction from shale formations has grown to about 15 percent of U.S. natural-gas production and this share is expected to triple by 2035, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

In its letter today, the EPA said it will issue an advance notice to the public outlining its proposal and questions for companies, local residents and environmental groups.

“The EPA does this when they are expecting a lot of debate and dialogue,” Richard Denison, a senior scientist at the New York-based Environmental Defense Fund, said in an interview. “It does significantly lengthen the process.”

The agency said one issue it will discuss is how much of the chemical information provided by companies will be made public.

Halliburton, based in Houston, already discloses on its company website the chemicals in its fracking mixtures, spokeswoman Beverly Stafford said in an e-mail today.

“The site also includes educational material that describes the hydraulic-fracturing process,” she said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mark Drajem in Washington at mdrajem@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Liebert at lliebert@bloomberg.net

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