First responders ask for transparency for fracking chemicals
ST. CLAIRSVILLE — A policy group has partnered with emergency management agencies across 21 states, including Ohio, to petition the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to disclose the identities of chemicals used by oil and gas drilling companies in the hydraulic fracturing process.
The policy group, the Partnership for Policy Integrity, was formed “to promote sound energy policy and to help citizens enact science-based policies that protect air quality, ecosystems and the climate. Our current work focuses on biomass energy, oil and natural gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing,” said Dusty Horwitt, senior counsel for the group.
Horwitt said in a release that the state of Ohio and the federal government often prevent citizens, even first responders, from knowing what chemicals are used in drilling operations because they deem their extracting process as “confidential business information.”
In a letter dated Nov. 15 and sent to U.S. EPA Director Scott Pruitt, the group, along with more than 100 first responders, health professionals and scientists from 21 states and the District of Columbia, requested the EPA disclose the identities of 41 chemicals that EPA regulators reviewed between 2003 and 2014, under a program created by the Toxic Substances Control Act to ensure that new chemicals are safe before they are used commercially.
“The regulators identified health concerns about each of the new chemicals ranging from lung irritation to developmental toxicity to neurotoxicity, yet allowed each of them to be used in oil and gas wells. In at least 30 of the 41 cases, the EPA allowed the chemicals to be commercially produced without receiving health testing data from the manufacturers or requesting such data — as the EPA has authority to do under the law,” Horwitt stated.
The Partnership for Policy Integrity claims evidence has shown the 41 chemicals likely were used for hydraulic fracturing, and that chemical manufacturers have declared confidential some or all of the chemicals’ identifying information, as permitted by the TSCA.
“President Trump frequently talks about how important first responders are to protecting the public,” said Silverio Caggiano, battalion chief with the Youngstown Fire Department and deputy chief with the Mahoning County Hazardous Materials Response Agency. “Here’s something his EPA can do to protect first responders and citizens: Disclose these chemical identities so that we know what kind of risks we’re likely to encounter in the event of a spill or emergency.”
Belmont County EMA Director Dave Ivan also is concerned about the unknown aspects of hazardous materials that first responders may encounter. According to Ivan, any fixed facility that uses chemicals must fill out a “Tier 2” chemical inventory report. The report is due each year by March 15 and must detail what the facility used in the previous calendar year. He also noted that many times the oil and gas industry uses outside groups that come in to do the initial fracking of the well and are only here for 30 to 60 days and are not subject to the same regulations as the fixed facility.
“That is our biggest problem. We know they are using what may be hazardous chemicals but are not required to report it because they are only here for a short amount of time,” Ivan said. “We have talked to them in the past about getting the information before they use the chemicals so we can be prepared. In their Material Safety Data Sheets, drillers have to post whatever chemicals they have on site at the time, but they don’t need to report to EMA before they do what they are going to do. The world of hazmat in general is the great unknown. We never know what people are hauling over our roads, we just try to do our best with the information we have. Most of the time we have to shoot from the hip, but if would make life so much easier if we could know in advance what we are dealing with.”
Horwitt says he finds it “unsettling” that the EPA has identified health concerns for chemicals involved in the hydraulic fracturing process and still allows them to be used with no way for the public to find them.
“By disclosing the chemicals’ identities, EPA will help fulfill its obligation to protect public health,” Horwitt stated.