Disclosing chemical information before oil and gas companies break ground on a fracking site could better prepare emergency response teams for the worst fires, a Cleveland-based environmental and consumer organization contended today.
Based on their study of a Monroe County well pad fire in June, the nonprofit Ohio Citizen Action Education Fund came up with recommendations for state government to clarify chemical disclosure laws for oil and gas companies working in Ohio.
Oil and gas companies report the chemicals used on fracking sites to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, but they can be exempt from reporting hazardous chemicals to the State Emergency Response Commission and emergency planners and fire departments local to their well pads.
Without information on the chemicals used, fire departments are not prepared to respond to fires and other incidents, said Melissa English, executive director for Education Fund.
In the Monroe County fire, Statoil, the company that owns the well pad, listed two biocides, or organism-killing chemicals, used at their site to the Ohio EPA.
However, Statoil failed to publicly list those chemicals on fracfocus.org, an industry website where fracking companies report the chemicals they use, said Nathan Rutz, Cleveland campaign organizer for Ohio Citizen Action.
“At its core, this issue is about liability,” English said. “If everyone has full and complete knowledge on what chemicals are used on a fracking site, and someone’s well is contaminated, or someone’s pets die or if someone’s health is damaged, then they can point their finger back to the special sauce that particular company is using.”
Ohio Department of Natural Resouces spokeswoman Bethany McCorkle said that Statoil provided chemical and material safety data sheets that disclosed what was being used at the fracking site before drilling began.
Under current law, oil and gas companies have to report the chemicals they use to the Ohio EPA either 30 or 90 days after starting a project, depending on the hazard level of the chemical.
Because fracking projects can be completed in five to seven days, Rutz said the safest option would be to report chemicals before drills break the earth.
“Perhaps if the fire departments had known exactly what (chemicals) were on site, where and in what volume before the fire happened, maybe we wouldn’t have seen the 70,000 fish killed or the fire continue to burn for nine days,” Rutz said about the Monroe County blaze.
The Education Fund plans to push for Ohio lawmakers to require oil and gas companies to directly report all chemicals used on fracking sites before they begin drilling and repeal exemptions for oil and gas companies from Emergency Response Commission right-to-know laws.
English said she is concerned about oil and gas companies’ influence over the state legislature, but she hopes to see Governor John Kasich push the initiative with lawmakersi, since he had been responsive to concerns over fracking in the past.
The fire in Monroe was caused by a malfunction in tubing, which in the proper fracking process would pump fracking liquids underground at high pressure to crack the shale and release natural gases, according to previous Dispatch reports.
Crews fighting the fire flooded the area to extinguish it, sending contaminants into a creek that feeds the Ohio River. About 25 families were evacuated from the area, and one firefighter was treated for smoke inhalation.
Statoil North America owns the well that caused the fire, as well as permits for seven other wells on the site.
(An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that three chemicals that kill organisms were used at the fracking site. Incorrect information was provided by Ohio Citizen Action.)
Danielle Keeton-Olsen is a fellow for the Scripps Howards Statehouse Bureau.