In what is considered a first step towards requiring natural gas drillers to disclose the chemical constituents of hydraulic fracturing fluids, EPA recently released an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking public comment on the topic.
High volume hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” is a method of natural gas extraction by which materials, typically water, sand and chemical additives, are injected at high pressure to fracture deep layers of shale, which allows for the release of natural gas. The natural gas is then captured and surged to the surface, along with residual flow back fluids.
Chemical additives make up less than 1% of the fracking fluids. Under the current regulatory scheme, drillers are not required to disclose the identities of the chemical additives used in their fracking fluids. While some drilling companies have voluntarily disclosed the chemical makeup of their fracking fluids on sites like fracfocus.org, environmental groups and others have consistently called for making such disclosure mandatory. Indeed, this notice comes two years after environmental groups formally petitioned EPA to issue disclosure rules.
In its Advanced Notice, EPA stated that it is considering requiring mandatory disclosure under its Toxic Substances Control Act authority, voluntary disclosure, some combination of both, or no regulation at all. The EPA indicated that it would consider requiring disclosure of the identity, type, amount and circumstance of use for the chemical substance(s) and combinations used in fracking, and that it may provide for a series of best management practices, third-party certification, or incentives to promote disclosure. James Jones, EPA's assistant administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, called the Advanced Notice an “important step in increasing the public's access to information on chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing activities.”
The public comment period will be 90 days from the date the official version of the Notice is published in the Federal Register.