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Environment


New report looks at Ohio fracking disclosures
State ranks midway for adequate transparency when it comes to chemicals used in oil and gas drilling
by WKSU's KABIR BHATIA


Reporter
Kabir Bhatia
 
In The Region:
A new report says Ohio’s new disclosure laws -- touted by Gov. Kasich as some of the most open in the country -- are lacking when it comes to oil and gas drillers and the chemicals they use. But WKSU’s Kabir Bhatia reports that the industry says it needs some level of secrecy to maintain a competitive edge.
New report looks at Ohio fracking disclosures

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The report comes from OMB Watch, a nonprofit that monitors government transparency. It looks at policies and laws in 30 states that govern disclosure by the companies that use water laced with chemicals in the shale drilling process known as fracking. Many of the companies say that the chemicals they use are proprietary, and revealing them would be akin to revealing the formula for Coke.

Sean Moulton is director of federal information policy at OMB Watch, and says most state laws are inadequate. 

“While we want to respect trade secrecy, there has to be a that way we can get this information about what chemicals are being pumped under our homes, out to the public. Just like Coke and Pepsi report their ingredients, but you don’t have the formula, that’s what we really need to get to. Where we know what’s being injected, we don’t necessarily know how it gets put together into different formulas.”

Trade group says few chemicals are classified
That’s what Ohio law already requires, according to the industry trade group, the Ohio Oil & Gas Association. The group says only about 3 percent of the chemicals used are considered trade secrets, and the rest are disclosed to the public, thanks to last month’s passage of Senate Bill 315. 

Tom Stewart is vice president of the Association. He foresees no changes in Ohio laws after the passage of 315, and says that both the EPA and the Department of Energy are praising Ohio’s guidelines.

“They said that they peer-critiqued the Ohio program against the national guidelines. And the Ohio oil and gas [regulations are] overall well-managed, and meeting [their] program objectives. And [they have] a lot to offer other states on how to do it right. So despite the report, a collaborative of people from a national perspective said that the Ohio oil and gas regulatory program is one of the better in the nation.”

OMB puts Ohio in the middle of the pack
Even the OMB report says Ohio isn’t among the worst when it comes to transparency and oversight of fracking companies. In fact, it puts the state somewhere in the middle. But it says Ohio still lags in establishing baseline testing of air and water quality near the wells – which the report notes no state does -- and the fact that some chemicals can remain trade secrets.

About a quarter million oil and gas wells have been drilled in Ohio since the Civil War. But the pace accelerated with the escalation of fracking in 2005. That’s when the Congress exempted fracking from the Safe Drinking Water Act, which was designed to prevent toxic substances from being injected near underground drinking water.

OMB wants exemption reversed
Sean Moulton of OMB Watch says reversing the exemption is one of the reasons he co-authored the report.

“I think if hydraulic fracturing really was safe, and had no risk to the drinking water, it wouldn’t need an exemption. At the state level we need [a] tighter permitting process that requires up front reporting. And we need to create checks and balances in the ‘confidential business information’ claims that companies make around these chemicals.”

Fracking proponents argue that more regulation will hamper efforts to extract natural gas.

The Fracfocus.org website is supposed to list non-proprietary chemicals at every fracking well in the country, with information gathered from energy companies.

It now lists just two wells in all of Stark, Summit, Portage, Cuyahoga, Lake, Ashtabula, Mahoning and Lorain counties.
Listener Comments:

I hear the chemicals used are Nuclear wastes -can you confirm this?


Posted by: Barbara (Ohio) on July 16, 2012 11:07AM
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