EPA Eyes More Disclosure of Fracking Chemicals

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Wednesday it wants to provide more public information about the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, and will look at a new rule to gather data about the controversial technique.

Drillers blast sand, water and chemicals into wells deep beneath the earth's surface to open up vast reserves of domestic oil and natural gas from layers of shale rock. Environmental groups have questioned whether the practice of "fracking" is affecting the quality of water near the wells.

The oil and gas industry has argued that fracking does not pollute water, and many operators already disclose the chemicals they use to state regulators or voluntary databases.

The EPA said it aims to propose a new rule to gather the chemical data using its authority under the Toxic Substances Control Act, but wants to avoid duplicating efforts already under way in states and within the industry.

It was petitioned by Earthjustice, an environmental group, to take this new step.

The EPA expects to "focus on providing aggregate pictures of the chemical substances and mixtures used in hydraulic fracturing," said Stephen Owens, assistant administrator, in a letter to Earthjustice.

"This would not duplicate, but instead complement, the well-by-well disclosure programs of states," Owens said in the letter, posted on the EPA's website.

State governments are responsible for regulating most aspects of "fracking" for oil and gas, and the industry has argued that the federal regulator need not get involved.

But the EPA has shown that it intends to play a role where it can. It plans to propose standards by 2014 on wastewater discharged from gas wells, is studying the impact of fracking on drinking water, and will also finalize new standards on air pollution from gas wells.

Aggregating and disclosing the data would help improve public understanding of fracking, Owens said. The EPA will ask for comment on its plan after it publishes a formal notice, he said, giving no further details.

A report from an advisory panel to Energy Secretary Steven Chu had recommended industry disclose a broader range of the chemicals it uses as part of a strategy to responsibly develop shale gas resources. [ID:nN1E7A912S]

The Interior Department also is working on a new rule to require disclosure of chemicals used in fracking on public lands. [ID:nN1E79U0TY] (Editing by Andrea Evans)