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October 31, 2012
Will O&G be added to the TRI?

Seventeen environmental groups have petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to add the oil and gas (O&G) extraction industry to the list of sectors that must report environmental releases of hazardous substances under Section 313 of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA), better known as the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI).  The petition represents another effort by the environmental community to rein in the practice of hydraulic fracturing, which has expanded both O&G production and the use of chemicals at O&G sites.  The Office of Management and Budget has estimated that hydraulic fracturing is now in use at 9 out of 10 natural gas sites. 

There are two primary objectives of the TRI—to provide the public with information about chemicals present in their communities and to provide an incentive for industrial sectors to reduce or prevent pollution.

EPA has the authority

As noted by the petitioners, the TRI as originally established by Congress included only manufacturing sectors.  But Congress also gave the EPA the authority to add new industry sectors as the Agency saw fit.  The EPA exercised this authority in 1996 and 1997 and added metal mining and coal mining to the sectors that must report.  At that time, the Agency also considered adding the O&G sector but decided to defer its decision while it addressed technical issues regarding the definition of facilities subject to reporting.

According to the petitioners, the EPA has indicated that a decision to make a sector subject to TRI reporting is based on the three primary factors:

  1. Whether TRI-listed chemicals are reasonably anticipated to be present at facilities in the candidate industry group (the chemical factor).  The groups state that hydraulic fracturing uses substances containing at least 45 TRI-listed chemicals.
  2. Whether facilities manufacture, process, or otherwise use these chemicals (the activity factor).  The groups stated that the industry routinely manufactures, processes, or otherwise uses these chemicals throughout its processes.
  3. Whether facilities can reasonably be anticipated to increase the information made available pursuant to the TRI or otherwise further its purposes (the information factor).  The groups state that at present there are no adequate federal disclosure requirements for the O&G sector, so adding the industry will “unquestionably increase the information made available pursuant to the TRI or otherwise further its progress.”

Hazardous air pollutants

The petitioners cite EPA data indicating that the O&G sector releases 127,000 tons of hazardous air pollutants each year, second only to power plants and more than any other sector already reporting to the TRI. 

“Similarly,” say the petitioners, “well development—and specifically hydraulic fracturing—uses upward of 2 to 4 million gallons of water and fluids containing at least 45 TRI-listed chemicals.  Even if the chemicals are a small percentage of these fluids, the sheer volume means that hundreds of thousands of pounds of chemicals are used per facility.

Click here to read the petition.

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