Groups Sue EPA to Require Public Reporting of Toxic Chemicals Released During Fracking and Other Oil & Gas Operations
Lawsuit by Nine Environmental and Open Government Organizations Seeks to End Loophole for Oil and Gas Industry and Require It to Report Pollution to the Federal Toxics Release Inventory Like Other Major Industries
WASHINGTON, D.C., January 7, 2015 — A coalition of nine environmental and open government organizations sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today for its decades-long failure to require the booming oil and gas extraction industry to disclose the toxic chemicals released by hydraulic fracturing, natural gas processing, and related operations.
Based on EPA estimates, the oil and gas extraction industry releases more toxic pollution to the air than any other industry except for power plants.
The lawsuit by the Environmental Integrity Project and allies follows a petition that the groups filed in October 2012, requesting that EPA require the oil and gas industry to disclose such pollution to the Toxics Release Inventory, a federal public pollution database. Most other industries have had to comply with these “right to know” rules for more than 20 years.
“Due to EPA’s long inaction, the oil and gas extraction industry remains exempt from the Toxics Release Inventory, one of our nation’s most basic toxic reporting mechanisms,” said Adam Kron, an attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project. “The Toxic Release Inventory requires just one thing: annual reporting to the public. This reporting is critical to health, community planning, and informed decision making. Whether to add the oil and gas extraction industry shouldn’t even be a question at this point.”
The oil and gas extraction industry’s booming growth over the last decade because of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling has increased the variety and volume of toxic chemicals used by industry and released into the air, water, and ground.
For over two years, EPA has failed to act on the Environmental Integrity Project’s 2012 petition to include the oil and gas extraction industry in the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI), in spite of the following:
* In 2012, EPA estimated that the oil and gas extraction industry emits at least 127,000 tons of hazardous air pollutants every year, all of which are TRI-listed chemicals. These include benzene (a carcinogen), xylenes (which can cause breathing problems, headaches, and fatigue), and formaldehyde (which is a carcinogen and damages the respiratory system).
* In January 2014, the Environmental Integrity Project collected air emissions data from six oil and gas “boom” states—Colorado, Louisiana, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wyoming—and found that nearly 400 large oil and gas extraction facilities are emitting a combined 8.5 million tons of TRI-listed toxic chemicals each year in those states.
The Environmental Integrity Project filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on behalf of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Center for Effective Government, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future (PennFuture), the Clean Air Council, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, the Responsible Drilling Alliance, and Texas Campaign for the Environment. To read a copy of the lawsuit, click here.
The groups’ goal is for EPA finally to include the oil and gas extraction industry in the federal Toxic Release Inventory, so that the public, regulators, and industry itself can evaluate the full extent of the industry’s toxic pollution releases. In the past, EPA has the exercised its authority to expand the list of industries that must report toxic emissions to Toxic Release Inventory (e.g., requiring power plants and mining companies to report), but has never done so for the oil and gas sector.
“People deserve to know what toxic chemicals are being used near their homes, schools and hospitals,” said Matthew McFeeley, staff attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “For too long, the oil and gas industry has been exempt from rules that require other industries to disclose the chemicals they are using, so communities and workers can better understand the risks. It’s high time for EPA to stop giving the oil and gas industry special treatment.”
Congress established the Toxic Release Inventory in 1986 to inform the public about the release of sometimes carcinogenic chemicals (such as benzene) from industries in the wake of the deadly 1984 Bhopal disaster in India, in which toxic gases killed thousands of local residents.
“What we are asking for is actually very simple: treat fracking just like every other industrial operation that releases air and water pollution,” said Zac Trahan, program director with Texas Campaign for the Environment. “This right-to-know loophole is a perfect example of how fracking is currently given special exceptions to get around our nation’s most important environmental laws. If oil and gas drilling and extraction is as safe as industry lobbyists say it is, they should be able to follow the same rules every other industry already does.”
A January 2014 investigation by the Environmental Integrity Project found that within six oil and gas boom states, 395 large facilities in the oil and gas extraction industry each emitted over 10,000 pounds of at least one toxic chemical, the annual threshold that would require reporting to the TRI for other industries. These large facilities in Colorado, Louisiana, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wyoming included natural gas compressor stations, processing plants, wastewater facilities, and plants that separate natural gas liquids. Unreported releases of toxic chemicals are also occurring at oil and gas well sites, where drilling, hydraulic fracturing, and waste fluid handling and storage take place, as well as from storage tank batteries and pipelines.
Similar industrial facilities downstream from the oil and gas extraction industry—such as oil refineries, petrochemical plants, and ethane processing plants—have had to report their toxic releases to the federal Toxic Release Inventory for more than 20 years. EPA’s current rules do not require the same disclosures from fracking operations, or from plants that process natural gas and separate natural gas liquids, or from compressors and tank batteries that serve oil and gas drilling.
In October 2012, the Environmental Integrity Project petitioned EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, asking the agency to require the oil and gas extraction industry to start reporting its releases of pollutants to the federal Toxic Release Inventory. On December 10, 2012, EPA sent the organization a letter formally acknowledging receipt of the petition and stating that it would consider the petition “in accordance with applicable law.” More than two years later, EPA has not issued a final response to the petition, which is considered an “unreasonable delay” under the federal law governing agency decisions. Even prior to the petition, EPA had been considering adding the oil and gas extraction industry to the Toxic Release Inventory for nearly two decades, having first considered the issue in 1996.
The Environmental Integrity Project and its allies are asking the courts to order EPA to issue a final response to the petition, within a court-imposed deadline of sixty days. If EPA requires the oil and gas industry to report to the Toxic Release Inventory, the public could obtain data about toxic air and water pollution online for free without delay.
Sean Moulton, a director at the Center for Effective Government, said disclosure of pollution data to the federal program is necessary. “State disclosure laws are simply inadequate. We need uniform national reporting standards on toxins,” Moulton said. “The public disclosures in the Toxic Release Inventory have spurred companies across an array of industries to significantly reduce the toxic wastes they produce. There is no reasonable rationale for exempting the oil and gas industry from these reporting requirements. Citizens have a right to know what wastes are being released in their communities.”
Mark Szybist, staff attorney for PennFuture, said: “Toxic chemicals don’t cease to be toxic when the oil and gas extraction industry uses them. Indeed, the toxic threat of the oil and gas industry is greater than from other industrial sectors, because the industry drills so many wells in areas where people live and children go to school. The EPA should act at once to grant the Environmental Integrity Project’s petition.”
Delaware Riverkeeper Maya van Rossum said: “Currently the Delaware River Basin Commission, an interstate regulatory body, is considering whether or not to open up the Delaware River watershed to shale gas extraction. The Delaware River is the drinking water supply for over 17 million people and is a major supporter of recreation, jobs, and healthy communities in the four states of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. Release of the Toxic Release Inventory information is vitally important for helping to ensure the Basin Commission, led by the President and the Governors of the four watershed states, makes the right decision about allowing drilling and fracking to enter into the watershed — to protect this river for the benefit of the many who depend upon it, rather than sacrifice it to the shale gas industry.”
Barbara Jarmoska, treasurer of the Responsible Drilling Alliance, said: “Neither local residents nor elected officials were prepared for the sudden and dramatic industrial transformation of Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale region. The health and environmental costs of the industry have not been properly nor thoroughly evaluated, and the whole truth of the industry’s toxic burden has been manipulated and undermined by an aggressive, industry-funded marketing campaign of disinformation. Because of this, the addition of the oil and gas extraction industry to the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) is paramount. Increased and regular reporting by facilities in the oil and gas industry will result in more precise information on the type and amount of toxic chemicals released to the air, water, and land. This information will help to provide for a more informed electorate, and equip public officials with the facts necessary to make science-based decisions on zoning, permitting, and regulations.”
For a copy of the lawsuit, click here.
ABOUT THE ORGANIZATIONS:
The Environmental Integrity Project is a 12-year-old nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that is dedicated to the enforcement of environmental laws and the protection of public health across the United States.
The Center for Effective Government is a 32-year old, nonpartisan policy and advocacy organization dedicated to ensuring that government has the resources and authority required to protect the health and wellbeing of the American people.
The Chesapeake Climate Action Network is the oldest regional environmental grassroots and advocacy non-profit fighting polluters and championing clean energy at the state level in Maryland, DC, and Virginia.
The Clean Air Council is a member-supported, nonprofit environmental organization dedicated to protecting everyone’s right to breathe clean air.
The Delaware Riverkeeper Network champions the rights of communities to a Delaware River and tributary streams that are free flowing, clean, healthy, and abundant with a diversity of life.
The Natural Resources Defense Council is an international nonprofit environmental organization, founded in 1970, with more than 1.4 million members and online activists.
Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future, or PennFuture, is a public interest, membership organization whose purposes include advocating and litigating on behalf of clean air, pure water, public health, and public lands in Pennsylvania.
Responsible Drilling Alliance, or RDA, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit membership organization based in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, that seeks to educate its members and the public about the consequences of unconventional gas development, and advocates for the protection of natural resources and human health, safety and quality of life in central Pennsylvania.
Texas Campaign for the Environment is a non-partisan, non-profit citizens’ organization dedicated to informing and mobilizing Texans to protect the quality of their lives, their health, their communities and the environment.