From our collaborating accomplice “Dwelling on Earth,” public radio’s environmental information journal, an interview by producer Aynsley O’Neill with Kristina Marusic, a journalist for Environmental Well being Information. This interview has been edited for size and readability.
In November 2023, Environmental Well being Information reporter Kristina Marusic talked with Dwelling on Earth in regards to the bid by the Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro to unmask the key chemical substances utilized in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, although some particulars had been missing.
Now the state has superior guidelines that may require fuel and oil drillers to reveal any poisonous chemical substances they plan to inject into the bottom, fairly than solely requiring them to inform regulators after the very fact.
However some chemical substances will stay shrouded in thriller, since these which can be thought of “commerce secrets and techniques” are exempted, and the brand new rule solely applies to new fracking operations, not present tasks.
Right here’s what the brand new fracking guidelines imply for holding ingesting water secure.
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KRISTINA MARUSIC: The large modifications with this new coverage are that now each single firm that wishes to drill a nicely within the state of Pennsylvania must submit an inventory of the chemical substances they intend to make use of to the Pennsylvania Division of Environmental Safety earlier than they drill the nicely, versus after, and the Division of Environmental Safety is now going to put up these lists by itself web site and make them publicly obtainable earlier than drilling occurs.
AYNSLEY O’NEILL: So elevated transparency is the purpose, and so they’re going to publicly put up these lists. What does that imply for the individuals in these communities? What can they do with these lists of chemical substances now that they’re going to be disclosed?
MARUSIC: This theoretically may give communities extra of a chance to say we’re not snug with these chemical substances getting used to drill a nicely in our neighborhood, and to both use that in public hearings in regards to the allowing course of, or to barter with an oil and fuel firm or ask an oil and fuel firm to vary the mixtures of chemical substances that they’re utilizing. There’s no assure that that may be efficient, in fact, however I do assume, typically, it’s useful for communities to know what chemical substances a fracking firm is proposing to make use of in wells that they wish to drill close to their properties and faculties and companies.
O’NEILL: What are the considerations with fracking in relation to chemical publicity?
MARUSIC: There are greater than a thousand completely different chemical substances which have been utilized in these fracking fluid mixtures over time. These chemical substances can embody carcinogens like formaldehyde, arsenic and benzene; doable carcinogens like naphthalene and acrylamide; and ethylene glycol, which is linked to wreck to the kidneys, nerves and respiratory system.
We additionally know that PFAS—or eternally chemical substances—have been utilized in fracking in numerous components of the nation, together with Pennsylvania. The priority is that communities could also be uncovered to those chemical substances via the method of fracking. There’s a selected federal loophole referred to as the Halliburton Loophole that exempts the oil and fuel trade from federal regulation below the Secure Ingesting Water Act.
Which means that the trade can use hazardous chemical substances like these with out being topic to the identical rules as different industries that wish to use some of these chemical substances. I wrote a few 2023 research that discovered that fracking corporations used greater than 280 million kilos of hazardous chemical substances from 2014 to 2021 that ought to have been regulated below the Secure Ingesting Water Act, however weren’t due to this Halliburton loophole.
O’NEILL: Governor Shapiro’s announcement implies that there’s a step being taken in direction of elevated transparency. However this new coverage doesn’t cowl chemical substances which can be thought of commerce secrets and techniques. What’s the difficulty there?
MARUSIC: In Pennsylvania, and many different states the place there’s an enormous oil and fuel presence, numerous the general public disclosure legal guidelines for these chemical substances have a commerce secrets and techniques provision that enables corporations to withhold details about chemical mixtures that they are saying are proprietary, or that represent commerce secrets and techniques.
There was one other research final yr that confirmed that the variety of instances and the portions of chemical substances that corporations are claiming are commerce secrets and techniques of their public chemical disclosures has elevated fairly dramatically over time, which some individuals discover regarding. And this new coverage nonetheless permits for corporations to withhold that data from the general public.
In Pennsylvania, corporations have at all times been required to supply that data to state regulators in the event that they ask for it. So whereas that data received’t be included within the public disclosures, in idea, the Division of Environmental Safety ought to get the whole checklist together with these commerce secret chemical substances. One downside with that’s that operators purchase these mixtures of chemical substances from third events. One of many corporations that sells essentially the most of these items is Halliburton, [of] the Halliburton Loophole.
They’re referred to as issues like ‘Frack Magic.’ They’ve very goofy names, these fracking chemical mixtures. They usually don’t at all times include full ingredient lists, as a result of they’re not required to by regulation. In numerous cases, operators don’t truly know what’s in these fracking chemical mixtures, so that they’re not capable of present a whole checklist to regulators. In Pennsylvania, the regulation particularly says that they’ll’t get in hassle for not disclosing a whole checklist if it’s as a result of they don’t have it. So there’s this type of lack of transparency all all through the availability chain that causes issues.
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O’NEILL: Now that this new coverage is taking impact, what repercussions would fracking corporations face in the event that they don’t abide by the coverage, in the event that they don’t make these chemical lists obtainable to the general public?
MARUSIC: The Pennsylvania Division of Environmental Safety says it’s actively offering coaching to fracking operators on these new guidelines, and that it plans to evaluate all of those paperwork earlier than drilling occurs to guarantee that this data has been offered. The company didn’t straight reply to my questions on whether or not drilling permits might be denied if corporations didn’t present this data, however they did say that the company will conduct enforcement as wanted to make sure compliance with these new guidelines.
Generally, the company’s enforcement instruments sometimes embody notices about violations and ongoing communication with fracking corporations about coming into compliance. If that’s not efficient, they’ll finally fantastic an organization for not adhering to its insurance policies.