Unique Identifiers Could Shed Light on Confidential Fracking Chemicals

EPA Will Issue Regulations under New Toxic Substances Control Act

A new EPA initiative, if combined with changes in state law, could shed light on some of the confidential chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. Since 2010, a growing number of states have required oil and gas companies to disclose the chemicals they use in hydraulic fracturing. However, most, if not all, of these states allow oil and gas companies to withhold from the public the identities of certain chemicals that the companies consider to be trade secrets. The companies have frequently exercised this ability, asserting that the trade secrets are essential to their business.  However, with the chemicals’ identities hidden, citizens might be unknowingly exposed to dangerous substances and cannot make fully informed decisions about drilling and fracking. To protect public health and the environment, PFPI supports full disclosure of chemicals used in fracking.

While new regulations from the EPA would fall short of full disclosure, they would be a step in the right direction. Amendments to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), enacted by Congress last June, require EPA, among other things, to create unique identifiers that must be used to identify chemicals when EPA allows chemical manufacturers to claim the chemicals’ identities confidential. PFPI recently submitted comments urging EPA to develop these regulations as quickly as possible.

In response to a Freedom of Information Act request, we learned that manufacturers of new drilling and fracking chemicals frequently claim their chemicals’ identities confidential when they submit the substances for EPA review under the TSCA. We also discovered that EPA regulators have typically found health concerns about these chemicals and that the regulators have nonetheless usually approved these chemicals for commercial use despite a lack of health testing data. The confidentiality claims likely make it almost impossible for the public to know where the chemicals have been used. This problem is compounded by the state fracking chemical disclosure laws that also permit confidentiality claims.

In our comments, PFPI recommended the following change in state fracking chemical disclosure laws as a complement to EPA’s development of unique chemical identifiers:  when oil and gas companies declare confidential a hydraulic fracturing chemical used in a particular well, the companies should be required to disclose any unique identifier assigned to the chemical by EPA. Citizens would then be able to reference EPA records that show what, if any, health concerns EPA regulators had about the chemical. This system would not reveal chemical identities, but it would enable citizens to know if EPA regulators had health concerns about confidential fracking chemicals. That knowledge would bring citizens a step closer to making informed decisions about fracking and would help alert the public about potential exposure to toxic substances.


Photo: Natural gas field near Rifle, Colorado. Credit: The Endocrine Disruption Exchange.

Partnership for Policy Integrity