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Published: Tuesday, 11/27/2012

Disclose fracking chemicals

As Ohio’s an­tic­i­pated frack­ing boom emerges, state gov­ern­ment must hold the oil and gas in­dus­try more ac­count­able for the chem­i­cals it uses in the ex­plo­ration pro­cess. This is not a mat­ter of im­ped­ing eco­nomic growth, job cre­ation, or en­ergy se­cu­rity, but rather of pro­tect­ing pub­lic health and the en­vi­ron­ment.

A new re­port con­cludes that oil and gas ex­trac­tion op­er­a­tions across the na­tion re­lease nearly 130,000 tons of haz­ard­ous pol­lut­ants a year — more than any in­dus­trial sec­tor other than power plants. Yet much of this pol­lu­tion is not re­ported un­der the U.S. En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency’s Tox­ics Release In­ven­tory, a pub­lic right-to-know pro­gram.

New drill­ing tech­niques can un­lock pre­vi­ously in­ac­ces­sible oil and nat­u­ral gas through hy­drau­lic frac­tur­ing, or frack­ing, of shale rock. The pro­cess in­volves the use of toxic chem­i­cals, along with plenty of wa­ter.

Ohio ap­pears to hold some of the na­tion’s larg­est re­serves of oil and nat­u­ral gas in the east­ern and south­ern parts of the state. It can be­come a model for re­spon­si­ble frack­ing, and for un­der­ground in­jec­tion of frack­ing flu­ids.

But this year, the state’s Gen­eral As­sem­bly de­clined to re­quire frack­ing op­er­a­tions to test the flu­ids they use, or to dis­close the chem­i­cals in­volved be­fore ex­plo­ration. A new law re­quires com­pa­nies to dis­close what chem­i­cals they use af­ter the fact. But it gives them as long as two months, and in­cludes an ex­cep­tion for trade se­crets.

The new law also lim­its who can sue en­ergy com­pa­nies over such se­crets. That lim­its trans­par­ency as well.

The EPA’s tox­ics in­ven­tory con­sists of 650-some chem­i­cals. But oil and gas pro­duc­ers need not wait for a gov­ern­ment man­date to in­crease dis­clo­sure.

The In­ter­na­tional Energy Agency, one of the world’s larg­est pro­mot­ers of en­ergy pro­duc­tion, has warned drill­ers world­wide that if they do not ex­tract oil and gas re­spon­si­bly, they could suf­fer ma­jor eco­nomic con­se­quences. A new agency re­port calls for more trans­par­ency about the com­plete cy­cle of drill­ing op­er­a­tions, chem­i­cal use, and dis­posal.

Nat­u­ral gas is so abun­dant glob­ally that it could sup­ply more en­ergy than coal, nu­clear power, and oil com­bined by 2020, the agency says. The new era of frack­ing of­fers Ohio a his­toric op­por­tu­nity, but only if drill­ing and waste dis­posal are done right. That in­cludes full and timely dis­clo­sure of the chem­i­cals used.

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