New Industry-Friendly Fracking Rules Fall Short

Washington, DC – The Obama Administration’s new hydraulic fracturing rules, released Friday, leave too much control in the hands of the oil and gas industry, particularly when it comes to public disclosure of the toxic chemicals used in fracking and fracking wastewater, Environmental Working Group said. 

The new rules issued by the U.S. Interior Department require drilling companies to report the chemicals injected into oil and gas wells on FracFocus, an online database funded by the oil and gas industry with no independent oversight to ensure accuracy. FracFocus has repeatedly been shown to be riddled with errors and omissions

Moreover, the rules – which apply only to land owned by the federal government or Indian tribes – were written to ensure continued fracking. 

“The new rules are undoubtedly an improvement over the status quo, but in reality they amount to no more than a Band-Aid on the threat to public health and the environment posed by fracking,” said EWG Executive Director Heather White. “The regulations won’t slow the spread of fracking on public lands, won’t ensure that Americans are fully informed about the fracking chemicals threatening water supplies, and won’t provide the necessary oversight of drilling operations – especially with the wastewater that flows to the surface after a well is fracked.”

Although the new rules require disclosure of non-trade secret chemicals used in fracking operation a gas or oil well, they don’t require drillers to disclose what chemicals are in the huge volumes of wastewater that flow back to the surface afterward. Only California requires drillers to test wastewater and disclose the chemical contents. EWG’s recent analysis of the first full year of disclosure required by California revealed alarmingly high levels of chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive harm.

However, the new regulations do virtually prohibit the practice of disposing of chemical-laden wastewater in open pits, and will instead require that stored in metal tanks. 

“While it’s encouraging to see the federal government take a step towards regulating fracking operations, we need to see much more decisive action than today's announcement,” White added. 

EWG, like most other environmental health groups, has called for a ban or moratorium on fracking on public lands. The new Interior Department rules fall far short of protecting Americans’ right to know about the toxic stew of chemicals in fracking or fracking wastewater.

Last year, EWG joined with many other environmental health groups in calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to set up a government-run database modeled after EPA's Toxics Release Inventory, which makes it easy for citizens to track the pollution from industrial facilities in their communities.

Although today’s announcement provides for some improvements to the usability and data extraction of the industry-maintained FracFocus website, the database needs a dramatic overhaul. Using FracFocus, it is impossible to accurately search, navigate and track the information Americans need to assess the threat fracking poses to water supplies and public health. For example, in its recent report on “monster wells” that were fracked with more than 10 million gallons of water, EWG found that in many cases FracFocus didn’t even disclose whether a well was drilled for oil or gas.