Group: Toxic chemical releases going unreported
San Antonio Express-News | Jennifer Hiller
January 30, 2014
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SAN ANTONIO — In the middle of a massive U.S. oil and gas boom, the nonprofit Environmental Integrity Project says the release of thousands of pounds of toxic chemicals is going unreported in Texas and other states.
The organization, along with more than a dozen environmental and watchdog groups, is petitioning the Environmental Protection Agency to require sites such as gas plants, compressor stations and tank batteries report to the federal Toxic Release Inventory, which tracks the release or disposal of chemicals that can threaten health or the environment.
The exploration and production side of the oil and gas industry does not have to report to the TRI.
The Environmental Integrity Project looked at a handful of the busiest states for oil and gas production: Texas, Colorado, Louisiana, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Wyoming. It found 395 oil and gas facilities that each emitted more than 10,000 pounds of at least one toxic chemical in a year — the threshold at which many other industries must report to the Toxic Release Inventory. It used information from state agencies to determine emissions.
Texas had the most sites with toxic emissions in excess of 10,000 pounds — 209.
Colorado had 124 sites, Louisiana had 34, Wyoming had 14, Pennsylvania had 13 and North Dakota had one.
The Toxic Release Inventory was created in the 1980s after a fatal chemical accident at aUnion Carbide plant in Bhopal, India.
Julia Bell, spokeswoman for the Independent Petroleum Association of America, said the oil and gas production sites are more scattered and smaller in scale than the kind of large facilities the EPA had in mind when creating the Toxic Release Inventory.
“As for the report, we're still looking into the numbers, but IPAA remains firm in our position that EPA's TRI program never intended independent producers and their operations to be subjected to the extensive reporting requirements, which are designed to focus on intensive emissions of hazardous waste,” Bell said by email. “It makes little environmental or economic sense for (exploration and production) operations, which are small and diffused across the country and are already subjected to numerous environmental regulations both at the state and federal level to be included in this additional requirement.”
The Environmental Integrity Project searched for 10 representative toxic chemicals such as formaldehyde, benzene and hexane. In all, the oil and gas production facilities in the study were emitting a total of 8.5 million tons of toxic chemicals per year.
“Many of these facilities are very close to where families live,” said Sharon Wilson, Texas organizer for the Earthworks Oil and Gas Accountability Project. “People need to know what their exposure risk is.”
The groups sent a petition to the EPA on Thursday — for the second time — asking the agency to add the oil and gas extraction industry to the Toxic Release Inventory.
Large manufacturing, metal mining, power generation, chemical manufacturing and hazardous waste treatment already report to the TRI.
A statement from the EPA said the request “will be considered by EPA in accordance with applicable law.”
The TRI is easy to use and free, and doesn't require the kind of technical know-how that some state agency websites require, said Adam Kron, attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project. It also requires annual reporting, while some states have spottier requirements.
“There's really no other public resource like it,” Kron said.
The Environmental Integrity Project sent a similar petition to the EPA in October 2012, although this is the first time it included data on toxic releases.
Kron said that around 1996, the EPA considered adding oil and gas wells to the Toxic Release Inventory but didn't. He said that even if there are practical hurdles to adding individual well sites, there are plenty of other large, stationary sites that should be able to report to the TRI.
Other groups signing on to the letter and data were the Center for Effective Government, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Citizen Shale, Clean Air Council, Clean Water Action, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Earthworks, Environment America, Environmental Advocates of New York, Natural Resources Defense Council, PennEnvironment, San Juan Citizens Alliance and Texas Campaign for the Environment.
The data and other information can be downloaded at environmentalintegrity.org.