New EPA ruling on toxic chemicals disclosure excludes shale gas sites

Measuring toxic emissions
Source: DollarPhotoClub

In response to a petition and lawsuit by environmental and open government organizations, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will propose regulations requiring natural gas processing plants to start reporting the toxic chemicals they release.

But the settlement will not require shale gas well sites, compressor stations, pipelines, and other smaller processing facilities that employ fewer than 10 people, to disclose their toxic emissions as the groups had sought.

“We wanted them all included but the fact that the EPA added the processing plants, while not everything we were looking for, is an improvement,” said Tom Pelton, a spokesman for the Environmental Integrity Project, a Washington, D.C.-based environmental organization, which along with nine partner organizations sued the agency in January 2015 over its decades-long failure to require the oil and gas extraction industry its pollution to the federal government and public. The lawsuit followed an October 2012 petition in which EIP and seventeen co-petitioner organizations requested that EPA add the industry to the TRI.

“The oil and gas industry releases an enormous amount of toxic pollutants every year, second only to power plants in emissions,” said Adam Kron, attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project. “With this decision, EPA is taking an important step in the right direction. Public reporting to the Toxics Release Inventory allows communities to measure environmental impacts and plan for their future. It also motivates companies to reduce their toxic footprint, and provides insight into how well our environmental laws are working.”

The Environmental Integrity Project had filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on behalf of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Center for Effective Government, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future (PennFuture), the Clean Air Council, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Earthworks, the Responsible Drilling Alliance, and Texas Campaign for the Environment. In April, EPA committed that it would provide a formal response to the petition by October 30, 2015.

“Communities near drilling deserve to know which toxic chemicals the oil and gas industry releases,” said Aaron Mintzes, policy advocate for Earthworks. “EPA’s decision today will help hold this industry accountable. While we prefer EPA require reporting industry-wide, this step will provide the public a better understanding of the toxic contaminates in their communities.”

Under EPA’s forthcoming proposal, gas processing plants would have to start reporting their emissions of toxic chemicals including xylenes (which can cause breathing problems, headaches, and fatigue), formaldehyde (which is a carcinogen and damages the respiratory system) and benzene (which can cause cancer).

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy wrote in her response to the environmental organizations: “The addition of natural gas processing facilities to TRI would meaningfully increase the information available to the public and further the purposes of (the TRI law) EPCRA § 313.” She added: “EPA estimates that natural gas processing facilities in the U.S. manufacture, process, or otherwise use more than 25 different TRl-listed chemicals.”

Not included in EPA’s decision are well sites, compressor stations, pipelines, and other smaller facilities that employ fewer than 10 people.

Congress established the Toxic Release Inventory in 1986 to inform the public about the release of sometimes carcinogenic chemicals (such as benzene) from industries in the wake of the deadly 1984 Bhopal disaster in India, in which toxic gases killed thousands of local residents.

“The TRI is a critical tool for providing pollution information to the public,” said John Noël, National Oil & Gas Campaigns Coordinator for Clean Water Action. “Communities have a right to know about oil and gas related impacts on water, air and land.”

In 2012, EPA estimated that the oil and gas extraction industry emits at least 127,000 tons of hazardous air pollutants every year, all of which are TRI-listed chemicals. Based on these estimates, the oil and gas extraction industry releases more toxic pollution to the air than any other industry except for power plants.

“EPA’s decision to propose adding natural gas processing plants to the list of industries covered by Toxics Release Inventory reporting will add significantly to the public’s understanding of the toxic chemicals released by these facilities into the environment,” said George Jugovic, Jr., chief counsel at PennFuture. “It is important that the public continue to demand complete transparency about the nature and level of toxic chemicals released by the shale gas industry, from beginning to end.”

Barbara Jarmoska, treasurer of the Responsible Drilling Alliance, said: “Increased and regular reporting by facilities in the oil and gas industry is of paramount importance. While EPA’s proposal for processing plants is progress, those of us living atop the Marcellus Shale where unconventional drilling pads and compressor stations abound are disappointed by EPA’s decision not to include those facilities.”

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