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Economy and Business


Fracking rig fire ignites new calls for chemical disclosure
Gov. Kasich says it is important to balance public safety with trade secret rights
by WKSU's ANDY CHOW


Reporter
Andy Chow
 
A fracking rig, such as this one, caught fire last month, causing new calls for disclosure of chemicals used in the process.
Courtesy of WKSU FILE PHOTO
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In The Region:
Big changes could be coming to Ohio’s fracking regulations in terms of chemical disclosure. It is a transparency issue environmental groups have been pushing to advance for years and another step is in the works following a major chemical spill.
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Late last month a large fire broke out at a hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, pad in Monroe County. According to a report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, fire crews doused the site with more than 300,000 gallons of water, forcing nearly a dozen drilling-related chemicals to run off the site.

Chemicals cause havoc
Several of those chemicals were then discovered in a nearby creek where, as the report explains, more than 70,000 fish were killed along a five-mile stretch of the creek.

In responding to the fire in Monroe County, Gov. John Kasich says it might be time to change laws again to make sure all first-responders have more access to all the chemical information.

“Cause we do have, I’m told, the most transparent of all the fracking liquid in the country," Kasich says. "But if it’s not getting to enough people then we need to widen it. Because I don’t want to have people walking around saying ‘well I don’t know what was there.’”

Companies are already required to provide a list of the chemicals used at the site. The only chemicals not on the list are those protected by trade rights, which are reported to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

Innovation and safety
Tom Stewart, executive vice president of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, urges that the drilling companies were compliant and disclosed all of their chemicals, even proprietary information, upon request. He adds that organizations such as the Ohio Medical Society are satisfied with the current chemical disclosure laws.

“The people that really care about this stuff like doctors believe that they have, through their society, believe that they can get the access that they need," Stewart says. "I think that what’s happening here is just another political gamesmanship.”

Stewart adds that creating more access to trade secrets would stifle the industry and company innovation.

The Ohio Environmental Council has been calling for expanded access to chemical information since the fracking industry started to take off in the state. Deputy Director Jack Shaner says the process could still be faster and that firefighters needed to know about the chemicals on the pad while they were rushing to the scene.

“You know depending on what the chemicals are that helps guide the effective suppression of that fire," Shaner says. "Whether to use foam, to use water, other approaches to that fire. They can predict how it’s going to react, how it may flame up or how it plumes, how air emissions will flow. Firefighters desperately need that information.”

Kasich has said for years that he is for strong regulations while still preserving the industry.

“I mean I think it’s absolutely critical that we protect this environment but we can protect it and still have a good business that’s employing lots of people in our state so these things are not taken lightly," Kasich says. "They’re not swept under the rug. They’re things we focus on.”

The governor also said he wants to take a look at ways of improving the internal communication among his administration. Both the Ohio EPA and Department of Natural Resources were on the scene to help with the investigation and cleanup.

As the federal EPA releases information about the cleanup, ODNR continues to investigate the fish kill and the cause of the fire.

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