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.