Response to Senator Inhofe Regarding Public Disclosure of Oil and Gas Industry Toxic Releases

The Environmental Integrity Project issued the following statement on May 22, 2015, in response to Senator Inhofe’s letter to EPA:

On May 19, 2015, U.S. Senators James Inhofe, David Vitter, and Mike Rounds sent a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, asking that EPA “act immediately to reject” the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) petition of the Environmental Integrity Project and sixteen other groups.  The senators’ letter is misguided, gets the facts wrong, and would deny communities near oil and gas operations the same kind of information about chemical releases that is already available to citizens living near other industries.

Our petition requests that EPA add the oil and gas extraction industry to the TRI.  The TRI is a vital, one-of-a-kind resource that does exactly one thing: it provides information to the public.  Each year, within industries covered by the TRI, facilities report the amount of toxic chemicals that they released to the land, air, and water or sent offsite for disposal.  EPA uploads this information to a free online database, which members of the public can search by city, zip code, type of facility, type of chemical, or a number of different criteria.  We encourage everyone to explore their own communities:

Why does this matter?  Using this information, communities can plan for their future, individuals can plan for their health, regulators can determine whether controls are working, and industries can decide to do better.  History has shown that once an industry sector is part of the TRI, its releases of toxic chemicals decrease voluntarily.  Sometimes facility operators didn’t even know that their releases were so high until they tallied them, or they realized that their competitors were outperforming them in controlling their toxic releases.

The oil and gas extraction industry is likely the largest major industry that still does not report to the TRI.  When EPA considered adding the industry in 1996, it concluded that the industry used “significant quantities” of toxic chemicals, but it couldn’t decide what to do about individual wells.  EPA decided to revisit the issue another day.  Nearly 20 years later, we’re asking EPA to revisit the issue.  Because of the shale boom, each well now uses millions of gallons of hydraulic fracturing fluids, and multi-well pads (up to a dozen or more wells) are the norm.  Moreover, there are thousands of large facilities downstream of these wells, like compressor stations, natural gas processing plants, and natural gas liquids fractionators.  The industry is booming, and it’s still not reporting its releases.

Senator Inhofe and his two colleagues claim that our petition “frivolous, inappropriate, and unnecessary.”  Anyone living near oil and gas facilities would disagree, because they have a right to know what pollutants are in the air they breathe and the water they drink. If the senators don’t agree with our call for public disclosure of toxic chemicals, perhaps they could ask their fellow committee member, Senator John Barrasso.  After we filed our petition, Senator Barrasso’s Wyoming hometown newspaper, the Casper Star-Tribune, published an editorial calling it “a request worthy of consideration.”  In the Star-Tribune’s words, “this request boils down to an argument of equity. . . . This would just make oil and gas operations subject to the same scrutiny and disclosure that other businesses already must comply with.”

In order to achieve the purposes of the TRI, Congress gave EPA broad authority to add additional industry sectors and facilities.  EPA has used this authority before to bolster the information available to the public, and we’re asking the agency to do it once more.  As the Star-Tribune concluded, “the public good is rarely harmed when information is disclosed, only when it is withheld.”