In its advertising, the natural gas industry assures the public that its operations are safe and that it is committed to environmentally sound practices. So why does it balk at reporting the pollutants it puts in the air, ground, or water?
Nine environmental groups filed suit this week to force the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to add gas and oil extractors to the list of industries that must report emissions to the federal toxic release inventory. Such reporting already is required of coal mines, power plants, steel mills, and oil refineries — and even of maple syrup factories, yarn makers, and greeting card companies.
If, over the course of a year, these enterprises use more than stipulated amounts of any of 650 specified chemicals, they must identify those chemicals and the volume of emissions, which anyone can view online. Gas drillers and related operations — such as hydraulic fracturing contractors and compressor stations — should have the same duty.
The gas industry is a growing part of the economy, but concerns remain about its environmental impact. Critics say oil and gas extractors collectively are responsible for more emissions than any industry except power plants.
In 1997, the EPA unwisely exempted the industry from the emissions reporting requirement. Now, after trying for 2½ years to get the agency to change its mind, the environmental groups are suing to force a change.
In resisting the requirement, the industry says most individual facilities don’t use enough chemicals to meet the reporting threshold. An exemption may be proper for small emitters, but facilities that surpass the threshold should be as obliged as other big polluters to report the contents of their releases.
If the EPA won’t impose the reporting requirement on gas and oil extractors, the court should. Detailing emissions is one way to promote an honest discussion about the impact of a vital industry.
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