A coalition of advocacy groups sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency seeking access to information on toxic chemicals released by the energy industry through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and other forms of oil and gas drilling.

Fracking involves the injection of water, chemicals and sand below ground to extract oil and gas from shale formations. The process has been criticized as environmentally dangerous, even as its use has driven U.S. natural gas production to new highs amid litigation across the country.

The lawsuit, filed yesterday in Washington federal court, follows a petition by the groups to the regulator in 2012 seeking a rule that would require oil and gas companies to disclose such pollution to a government database.

“Because federal and state disclosure requirements are full of gaps and exemptions and otherwise have not kept pace with industry expansion, public information about the oil and gas extraction industry’s use and release of these toxic chemicals remains scant,” Adam Kron, a lawyer for the Environmental Integrity Project, wrote in the complaint.

In another case over hydraulic fracturing, an environmental advocacy group today sued the Obama administration for records disclosing “where, when and how much fracking has occurred” in the Gulf of Mexico.
Gulf Wells
The federal government has authorized fracking for at least 115 wells in the Gulf, with details unknown because the two Interior Department offices in charge of issuing permits haven’t complied with an open-records law request, according to the lawsuit. It was filed in federal court in Washington by the Center for Biological Diversity of Tucson, Arizona.

The need for disclosure on fracking is particularly pressing now because it has increased the variety and volume of toxic chemicals released into the air, ground and water, Kron, referring to the Environmental Integrity Project suit.

Liz Purchia, an EPA spokeswoman, declined to comment on the complaint.

The nine environmental and open-government groups bringing the suit are asking that the EPA require oil and gas companies to join coal mines, electric utilities and other industries in reporting deadly chemicals used or released to the Toxics Release Inventory database.

The suit was criticized by a petroleum industry advocate as an attempt to force oil and gas producers into an unnecessary reporting requirement.

Industry Spokesman

“What EIP fails to grasp, and has actually refused to acknowledge for several years, is that the TRI was never intended to cover oil and gas production, which is already subject to numerous environmental regulations at the state and federal level,” said Steve Everley, a spokesman for Energy in Depth, a program of the Independent Petroleum Association of America.

EPA has the authority to add industries to the disclosure program and the agency considered doing so for oil and gas producers, according to Kron, the Environmental Integrity Project attorney.

“At the end of the day, the TRI is just asking that you put your data on the table,” Kron said earlier in a phone interview, referring to the Toxics Release Inventory.

More than 400 measures to prevent or control fracking have been passed by U.S. cities and counties, according to Food & Water Watch, a Washington-based environmental advocacy group.

States Diverge

New York’s highest court ruled in June that the state’s municipalities can ban the practice. In July, a voter-enacted prohibition in Longmont, Colorado, was struck down by a state court judge.

Some states mandate reporting of fracking chemicals to FracFocus, an industry-supported public database.

Critics of FracFocus say it is inadequate because it leaves it up to oil and gas companies to decide which chemicals are trade secrets exempt from disclosure.

The chemicals case is Environmental Integrity Project v. U.S. EPA, 1:55-cv-00017, and the Gulf of Mexico records suit is Center for Biological Diversity v. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, 1:15-cv-00022, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).