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Hydrofracking chemicals must be revealed

Three years ago this month, Earthjustice and more than 100 other citizen groups contacted the Environmental Protection Agency with a petition.
They urged public-knowledge access, assured through national regulation, to information about the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing for shale oil and gas production.
The groups asked that the nature of the chemicals used be revealed and whether have they been tested for possible health effects.
If toxicity testing was not done, they suggested it should be required before the chemicals are widely used for hydrofracking purposes; the results of relevant health and safety studies should be given to the EPA and made public.
Through various loopholes, mostly enacted under the previous administration, the industry is exempted from basic federal laws designed to protect public resources and health planning, such as the Safe Drinking Water and the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know statutes, and several others.
Current practices can therefore leave community health responders unprepared, and workers and other affected citizens at risk of seriously harmful consequences, if accidents, spills or leaks occur from any phases in hydrofracking.
A coal-washing chemical spill into the Elk River poisoned the drinking water for 300,000 West Virginians early this year.
The local government’s and water utility’s emergency-response work would have been greatly eased, and people’s suffering potentially much shortened, had health and safety testing results about the contaminant substance been known.
Accidents are ubiquitous. As Bloomberg Businessweek reported: 1,384 different industrial facilities leaked 287 chemicals into U.S. waterways in just one recent year and the boom in hydrofracking resulted in 992 oil and gas spills in just three Colorado counties over the 2001-2010 decade.
To the Obama administration’s credit, despite the 3-year wait since the citizen groups’ petition, the EPA is now considering a proposal to require disclosure of all the chemicals used in fracking operations, including their known health and environmental effects. The Agency published a notice of proposed rulemaking to this effect, “Hydraulic Fracturing Chemicals and Mixtures,” on which it is seeking public input.
With rising concern nationwide over water contamination and health effects associated with hydraulic fracturing, several states (including Tennessee) are seeking identity disclosure for the chemicals, though generally only on an industry website where companies can voluntarily report, often post-drilling, the chemicals they use.
The U.S. Energy Department found that for 84 percent of the drilling operations listed on this website, “trade secret” exemptions from the reporting requirement were claimed by many companies.
If the people’s right to know what chemicals are being used in their neighborhoods is to be insured, federal regulation must provide for the timely, reliable and public disclosure that is needed. It should include the nature of the substances used, their quantity and concentration, as also their known environmental and health effects.
The harmful consequences can be too great to allow voluntary-only, or after-the-fact chemicals reporting, as hydrofracking expands across the country.
Comments on the proposed disclosure rule are accepted by the EPA up to September 18, 2014. They should be referenced as pertaining to “Docket ID EPA-HQ-OPPT-2011-1019.”