Recent weeks have seen new developments in the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) initiative to study the effects of hydraulic fracturing on public drinking water supplies. Hydraulic fracturing uses high-pressure water, combined with chemicals, to release natural gas present underground in shale formations. The use or proposed use of this process has raised concerns across the country that it has contaminated, or will contaminate, drinking water supplies.
On September 9, the EPA announced that it had issued a voluntary information request to nine natural gas companies, seeking:
information on the chemical composition of fluids used in the hydraulic fracturing process;
data on the impacts of the chemicals on human health and the environment;
standard operating procedures at their hydraulic fracturing sites; and
the locations of sites where fracturing has been conducted.
The request was made in the context of limited public knowledge about the exact composition of hydraulic fracturing fluids. According to the New York Times: "Most companies that make the fluids used in hydraulic fracturing have declined to disclose their formulas, arguing that the exact components are trade secrets." Unsurprisingly, industry's lack of transparency with respect to the composition of hydraulic fracturing fluids has led to concern, anxiety and suspicion among advocacy groups and residents of areas affected by hydraulic fracturing.
In its information request, the EPA seeks the information within 30 days and has indicated that it may treat certain data as confidential business information at a company's request, to protect such information from public disclosure. The EPA also alludes to a potential for litigation should the companies fail to provide a proper response. Industry representatives have indicated that the natural gas companies will cooperate with the EPA's request.
On September 13 and 14, the EPA convened a public meeting in Binghamton, New York, to discuss the scope and methods of its hydraulic fracturing study. About 500 people attended, reflecting a high level of concern, from a range of perspectives, about hydraulic fracturing and natural gas development.
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