As the British government increasingly encourages fracking companies, America belatedly contemplates more regulation

10 May

fracking plant 14

Closing the barn door after the horse has bolted?

Ed Crooks in New York reports that – in a notice released on Friday morning – America’s Environmental Protection Agency gave advance notice of “proposed rulemaking” to determine which of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing/fracking, give rise to real problems, and whether steps need to be taken to reduce or eliminate their use.” The rules would primarily affect the companies that make the chemicals used in fracking, including Dow Chemical and DuPont of the US and BASF of Germany.

The agency said it could impose regulations to force the chemicals companies to report those details, but could also use “best management practices, third-party certification and collection, and incentives for disclosure of this information”.

Public concerns/’allegations’ denied

Hydraulic fracturing involves pumping large volumes of water mixed with sand and chemicals into wells at high pressure to open small cracks in the rock through which the oil and gas can flow, raising concerns about air and water pollution.

There are allegations that the chemicals, including acids, thickening agents and additives to prevent corrosion and kill bacteria, are being pumped underground without any risk assessment available to the public.

fracking study birth defects cover 14To this we add the minor earthquakes in Ohio, reported widely and also a study on the increased incidence of birth defects in babies born nearby, published this year by the Colorado School of Public Health:

“Living near hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — sites may increase the risk of some birth defects by as much as 30%, a new study suggests.

In the U.S., more than 15 million people now live within a mile of a well”.

 

Private disclosure – partial

Companies have disclosed the chemicals they use on a website called FracFocus, set up in 2011, which now includes reports from 72,000 wells. The site also gives details of the properties and potential harmful effects of the chemicals used, which is the information now sought by the EPA. However, the site allows companies to withhold details of chemicals that are trade secrets. The composition of fracking fluid makes a crucial difference to the volume of oil and gas that can be recovered from a well and is a source of competitive advantage for companies such as Schlumberger, Halliburton and Baker Hughes that provide fracking services.

The American Petroleum Institute, the oil and gas industry group, criticised the EPA’s plans, saying new reporting rules would be “unnecessary and duplicative.” It said “robust” chemical information was already available to EPA, as well as to state authorities that were the primary regulators for oil and gas operations.

 

They would say that, wouldn’t they?

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