New report on hydraulic fracturing fluid issued by the EPA

April 7, 2015

FrackingThe Environmental Protection Agency recently released a report on the use of hydraulic fracturing fluids in oil and natural gas extraction wells around the United States. This report identifies the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluids and the quantities of those chemicals, and assesses the amount and sources of water that is used in this process. This report relied on self-reported disclosures from well operators. Through this method the EPA was able to identify the majority of the additive ingredients used in hydraulic fracturing. However, at least one ingredient was claimed confidential in over 70% of disclosures, which constituted 11% of the total ingredients used in hydraulic fracturing.

The report was purely scientific in nature and did not address human health or exposure, but it is part of a larger study that will look at the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water supplies and the potential health effects. The lack of federal oversight in the hydraulic fracturing process has caused increasing public concern due to the human and environmental risks that the process poses. Although the Safe Drinking Water Act (SWDA) regulates state underground injection programs and provides minimum requirements regarding the permitting, inspection, monitoring, recordkeeping, and reporting requirements, currently, the injection of fluids and propping agents underground for purposes of hydraulic fracturing operations is exempt from these regulations under 42 USCA § 300h(d)(1)(B). This exemption allows unknown and often toxic chemicals to be injected directly into or near groundwater drinking supplies.

An attempt to eliminate this exemption, the “Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act,” has been introduced in both the House and Senate several times since 2009. This act would remove the exemption and require disclosure of all of the chemicals that are proposed to be used in a hydraulic fracturing operation. This bill was reintroduced in March 2015 in both the House and Senate and referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the Committee on Environment and Public Works, respectively. Previous versions of this bill have all died in committee. Thomson Reuters’ Capitol Watch tool provides a simple way to keep track of a bill’s activity. Simply search for the bill number in the global search box, select the bill, click on the “track” button, and add it to the desired folder. It will be interesting to see whether the EPA’s report will have any effect on the success of these bills.