The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency should demand that companies disclose the chemicals they use in hydraulic fracturing and conduct safety and health tests on the effects of those chemicals, more than 100 advocacy groups say.
Earthjustice, an environmental law firm, filed a petition with the federal agency Thursday on behalf of the groups, including several from Wyoming.
The petition formally requests that the agency require companies test chemical substances and mixtures used in oil and gas drilling for their toxicity and identify everything that is tested.
The public needs that information because of the risks posed by the chemicals used in oil and gas exploration and production including hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the groups said in their petition.
“The more information we have about the chemicals used in fracking and drilling, the easier it will be to keep people safe and healthy,” Earthjustice Associate Attorney Megan Klein said. “But EPA needs to move quickly; we learn of new problems related to this industry almost daily.”
The groups from Wyoming represented in the petition are the Powder River Basin Resource Council, the Clark Resource Council and the Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens.
John Fenton of the Pavillion-based group said he’s in support of the petition as a way of adding pressure to companies that use fracking, which he fears could be polluting local water wells with hazardous chemicals.
“I believe everything here that is being asked in this petition is a very reasonable ask and, quite frankly, is coming down to the basic human rights of the people who are exposed to these,” he said.
EnCana Corporation has fracked wells the company has drilled in the Pavillion area. Some who live in the area believe fracking has polluted their drinking water, a claim EnCana disputes. A working group composed of company representatives, residents and state and federal regulators is investigating the source of the pollution.
In fracking, water, sand and chemicals are pumped underground under pressure to fracture a formation and allow oil and gas to flow to the surface.
Fracking is used in nearly all of the oil and gas development in Wyoming. Last year state regulators instituted disclosure rules for fracking fluid ingredients, which have served as a model for lawmakers and regulators in other states enacting similar rules.
Wyoming’s rules are a good example for other states, and they include requirements for both well-bore integrity and disclosure of the chemicals used in fracking, said John Robitaille, a vice president of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, which represents the state oil and gas industry.
“A lot of this stuff is around your house. It’s not something that’s made up in a secret laboratory somewhere. These types of chemicals show up in very common items,” he said.
“The other very important thing to keep in mind is we’re talking about a very small percentage” of chemicals in the total fracking fluid volume, he said.
While there’s slim hard evidence fracking has polluted water wells, the growing use of the practice to open vast new fields of shale gas has sparked growing public concern among landowners, environmental groups and both state and federal legislators. The EPA is in the midst of a large-scale study to test water for fracking pollution in sites across the United States.
“The EPA is scientifically studying fracking, states are regulating, companies are voluntarily disclosing, and 1.2 million wells have been fracked since 1949 without incident,” said Kathleen Sgamma, director of government affairs and public affairs for Western Energy Alliance, a advocacy group for companies involved in energy production in the West. “The only thing new today is the groups that have been spreading misinformation and hysteria are calling on the EPA to act blindly.”
The groups are asking the agency to act under the Toxic Substances Control Act. The EPA isn’t allowed to directly regulate fracking through the Safe Drinking Water Act because of 2005 legislation.
The EPA has 90 days to act on the petition. If the agency chooses not to act on the petition’s requests, the groups will consider pursuing legal action, said Deborah Goldberg of Earthjustice.
“They’re now in a positition where they do have to consider this,” she said. “If they do decline we would be authorized at that point to go to court.”