Want to know what chemicals are being used at a nearby Marcellus gas well that’s being drilled near you in Pennsylvania? Right now, it’s not so easy to find out. Here’s how Pennsylvania’s fracking chemical disclosure rules work, which went into effect in February of this year:
Within thirty days of well completion, an operator submits a report to the state Department of Environmental Protection, including “a list of the chemical additives used in the stimulation fluid, [and] the percent by volume of those chemical additives.”
For chemicals deemed hazardous by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the reports go a step further. Companies are required to report those chemicals to the Department of Environmental Protection, and include each compound’s chemical abstract service number. That’s a unique identifier — a fingerprint, of sorts — for the substance used. (OSHA regulations require those hazardous chemicals to be listed at each site, on what’s called a material safety data sheet.)
Once DEP receives that information, it’s reviewed by an inspector and filed in one of the agency’s regional offices. The reports aren’t posted online. One DEP official says the department doesn’t have the technology to do that right now, though the agency is hoping to launch a public database within the next few years. An individual can request the completion reports through the Right to Know process, though he or she won’t be able to view the chemicals operators had designated as “trade secrets.”
The Marcellus Shale Coalition, which represents gas drillers in Pennsylvania, is “overwhelmingly on board” with the disclosure regulations, according to spokesman Travis Windle, who said the group would support a move toward posting the information online. Environmentalists want to see a public database, too. “I don’t think we’re quite there yet,” said PennEnvironment’s clean water advocate, Erika Staaf. “[The regulation] needs some tweaking, so not only our…agencies, but really our general public can know what’s going underground, and what’s coming back up.”*
For residents close to a well being drilled in PA, it’s not (yet) a simple process. An online database would be nice, as well as full transparency about all chemicals that are used.
When will the public get an online database in PA?
If Governor Corbett endorses his Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission’s recommendations, things might [change]. In last month’s final report, the panel called for a shift in the way drillers file well completion reports, so that the documents include a “list of all hazardous chemicals used for hydraulic fracturing,” and are then posted on the Department of Environmental Protection’s website. Public access would bring Pennsylvania in line with the four other disclosure states. It’s unclear whether the recommendation would change the scope of chemicals reported.*
*StateImpact Project/NPR (Aug 12, 2011) – How Pennsylvania’s Fracking Chemical Disclosure Rules Stack Up Against Other States