The proponents of hydraulic fracturing have plenty of positives to support the practice including economic benefits and energy independence. On the flip side, however, fracking opponents see the practice as a huge user and polluter of water resources, and one that should be regulated more strictly, especially regarding the chemicals used.
On May 19, 2014, the EPA published an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) “to seek comment on the information that should be reported or disclosed for hydraulic fracturing chemical substances and mixtures and the mechanism for obtaining this information.” The ANPR is a result of a 2011 citizen petition submitted under section 21 of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and compliments a 2013 proposed rule by the Bureau of Land Management which regulates fracking on federal and Indian lands.
The original 2011 citizen petition sought to gain toxicity testing and reporting of chemicals and mixtures used in all oil and gas exploration or production, however, the EPA chose to limit the scope of its response and actions to only those chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. Thus the ANPR is seeking input “on appropriate disclosure to ensure that information about the chemicals and mixtures used in hydraulic fracturing activities is provided to the public in a transparent fashion.”
This information is not only important to the safety of drinking water supplies (which is currently under study by the EPA) but also concerns potential problems related to contamination of soil and air that can have far-reaching environmental and health and safety impacts. Based on their experience, EPA cites a number of well-known scenarios for such contamination including:
- Contamination underground sources of drinking water and surface waters resulting from spills, faulty well construction, or other means;
- Adverse impacts from discharges into surface waters or from disposal into underground injection wells; and
- Air pollution resulting from the release of volatile organic compounds, hazardous air pollutants, and greenhouse gases.
With those scenarios in mind, the EPA specifically cites activities associated with fracking chemicals including:
- Injection of water, chemicals, proppant, and/or tracers to prepare geologic formations for hydraulic fracturing,
- Completing a hydraulic fracturing stimulation stage,
- Evaluating the extent of resulting fractures, or
- Ensuring future ability to continue enhancement of production through stimulation by hydraulic fracturing.
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In general, the ANPR requests comments regarding the following:
- The identity, quantities, types, and circumstances of uses of chemical substances and mixtures used in hydraulic fracturing,
- What types of health and safety studies should be reported or disclosed,
- Whether and how data that are claimed to be trade secrets, or confidential business information (CBI), could be reported to EPA (or a third-party certifier) and then aggregated and disclosed while protecting the identities of individual products and firms,
- The appropriate mix of voluntary disclosure and/or regulatory reporting mechanisms.
It is also important to understand that the ANPR is addressing not only actual hydraulic fracturing operations, but also aligned industries including chemical manufacturers, chemical suppliers that engage in processing, service providers mixing chemicals on site to create the hydraulic fracturing fluids, and service providers responsible for injecting the hydraulic fracturing fluid into the well to fracture the
The public comment period for responding to the ANPR was extended until September 18, 2014. The ANPR, applicable comment information, and the 2011 citizen petition are available at http://www2.epa.gov/hydraulicfracturing#outreach.