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Published on April 1st, 2015 | by Tina Casey


What If They Disclosed Fracking Chemicals & Nobody Cared?

April 1st, 2015 by  

Did we miss something? Last Friday, the US Environmental Protection Agency finally released the results of its long-awaited study on fracking chemicals, and nobody seems to have much to say about it. If you were looking for some kind of press release or big announcement about the fracking study from EPA, keep looking — there isn’t one.

If it wasn’t for an EPA blog post spotted by our friends in the blogosphere, we’d be none the wiser, too — heck, we didn’t even know there was an EPA blog. Lucky for us, The Hill mentioned it last Friday, so we looked up the EPA blog and there is everything you want to know about fracking chemicals — or not, as the case may be.

EPA fracking study released

Known Unknowns About Fracking Chemicals

For those of you new to the topic, fracking is short for hydrofracturing, a gas and oil drilling method that involves shooting a mix of chemical-laced fluid and grit into shale formations.

Modern fracking can involve millions of gallons for a single well, but under the Bush Administration it won an exemption from federal water safety standards, and companies were no longer required to disclose their fracking fluid ingredients.

That’s the nut of the problem. Without confirmation on the ingredients, it would be — and has been — extremely difficult to trace specific instances of water contamination. While anecdotal evidence has been piling up, there’s not enough evidence to force a regulatory overhaul, at least not at the federal level.

Under the Obama Administration, EPA exercised its limited authority to push through an industry-supported, voluntary disclosure database called the FracFocus Chemical Disclosure Registry.

That’s where EPA got its data for the new fracking study. The result is the “Analysis of Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid Data from the FracFocus Chemical Disclosure Registry 1.” It covers 39,000 disclosures between January 2011 and February 2013.

If you want the full report, you can check out the massive files posted on EPA’s website. There’s also a much more manageable pdf form. If you want your fracking study in small bites, hit the state level summaries link.

It’s worth emphasizing that without an Act of Congress that tightens up the industry’s disclosure loopholes, EPA’s ability to address suspected cases of fracking-related contamination is very limited. However, the agency has been exercising its authority under general regulations that apply across a variety of industries, for example the improper disposal of construction-related debris.

So, How Much Is Known About Fracking Fluid?

We’ll turn to the EPA blog, EPA Connect, for the official rundown from EPA Deputy Assistant Administrator Tom Burke.

He cuts straight to the chase: what is known is that 65% of the disclosures included hydrochloric acid, methanol, and hydrotreated light petroleum distillates.

However, a full 11% of all ingredients were not identified, falling under the category of “chemicals identified as confidential business information.” Also, at least one chemical in that category was claimed in 70% of the disclosures.

That’s quite a few known unknowns there.

Nevertheless, EPA is forging ahead with a broader plan to assess fracking impacts. The new findings will go into a study called “Assessment of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas on Drinking Water Resources.” Presumably, it will cover earthquakes and fracking wastewater issues.

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Image Credit: Courtesy of US EPA. 

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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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