Fracking Data Sought by Environmental Groups in EPA Lawsuit

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A coalition of advocacy groups sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for public access to information on toxic chemicals released by the energy industry through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and other forms of oil and gas drilling.

Fracking involves the injection of water, chemicals and sand below ground to extract oil and gas from shale formations. The process has been criticized as environmentally dangerous, even as its use has driven U.S. natural gas production to new highs amid litigation across the country.

Today’s lawsuit, filed in Washington federal court, follows a petition by the groups to the regulator in 2012 seeking a rule that would require oil and gas companies to disclose such pollution to a government database.

“Because federal and state disclosure requirements are full of gaps and exemptions and otherwise have not kept pace with industry expansion, public information about the oil and gas extraction industry’s use and release of these toxic chemicals remains scant,” Adam Kron, a lawyer for the Environmental Integrity Project, wrote in the complaint.

The need for disclosure is particularly pressing now because the boom in fracking has increased the variety and volume of toxic chemicals released into the air, ground and water, according to the lawsuit.

Liz Purchia, an EPA spokeswoman, declined to comment on the complaint.

Toxic Disclosure

The nine environmental and open-government groups bringing the suit want the EPA to require that oil and gas companies join coal mines, electric utilities and other industries in reporting deadly chemicals used or released to the Toxic Release Inventory database.

The suit was criticized by a petroleum industry advocate as an attempt to force oil and gas producers into an unnecessary reporting requirement.

“What EIP fails to grasp, and has actually refused to acknowledge for several years, is that the TRI was never intended to cover oil and gas production, which is already subject to numerous environmental regulations at the state and federal level,” said Steve Everley, a spokesman for Energy in Depth, a program of the Independent Petroleum Association of America.

New Industries

EPA has the authority to add industries to the disclosure program and the agency considered doing so for oil and gas producers, according to Kron, the EIP attorney.

“At the end of the day, the TRI is just asking that you put your data on the table,” Kron said earlier in a phone interview.

More than 400 measures to prevent or control fracking have been passed by U.S. cities and counties, according to Food & Water Watch, a Washington-based environmental advocacy group.

While New York’s highest court ruled in June that the state’s municipalities can ban the practice, a voter-enacted prohibition in Longmont, Colorado, was struck down by a state court judge in July.

Some states mandate reporting of fracking chemicals to FracFocus, an industry-supported public database.

Critics of FracFocus say it is inadequate because it leaves it up to oil and gas companies to decide which chemicals are trade secrets exempt from disclosure.

The case is Environmental Integrity Project v. U.S. EPA, 15-cv-17, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

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