Groups Urge EPA to Close Pollution Reporting Loophole in Oil and Gas Industry

In an EIP report, it was found that 395 facilities in six states emit over 10,000 pounds of toxic chemicals each year, but don’t report to the Toxics Release Inventory because of a government loophole.

Nearly 400 oil and gas facilities in Colorado, Louisiana, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wyoming emit an estimated 8.5 million tons of toxic chemical each year, according to a new report by Environmental Integrity Project (EIP). The EIP details why the toxic emissions should be reported to the public Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), managed by the EPA, but aren’t because of an escape clause that exempts the oil and gas extraction industry from doing so.

EIP surveyed the industry for ten TRI-listed chemicals, including toxics such as formaldehyde, benzene, and hexane. TRI reporting requirements apply to facilities that use or process more than 10,000 pounds of any listed chemical. The facilities identified in the EIP report are far above this threshold, because their reported emissions will usually represent just one to two percent of the total amount used or processed. EIP noted that the facilities may actually be using or processing more than 500,000 pounds of each toxic chemical.

“We are in the middle of an oil and gas boom, but have far too little information about the environmental consequences,” said Eric Schaeffer, executive director, EIP. “Our research shows that many of these oil and gas plants emit tens of thousands of pounds of toxic pollutants every year, but that data was hard to get and incomplete. We need this industry to report that pollution to the Toxics Release Inventory where everyone can see it –– just like chemical plants and other facilities have done for more than 20 years.

For industries not exempted from reporting, the TRI provides free and publicly accessible information in a searchable online database. Facilities annually report the amount of each toxic chemical they use and how the chemicals were released or disposed of: e.g., to the air, land, or water. By contrast, the state emissions inventories from which EIP drew its data are reported on varying time cycles, exclude certain facilities, are not all available online without charge, and provide data only on air releases—and not releases to water or land. The groups’ letter notes that TRI reporting would provide far better information, and this weighs strongly in favor of requiring the oil and gas extraction industry to report to the TRI.

“Communities in the tristate area of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia are literally being surrounded by dangerous emissions from major gas processing facilities that are not being properly controlled or reported. These communities have a right to know what they are being exposed to. Someone should be measuring the growing cumulative impacts,” said Robert (Bob) Donnan, citizen advocate of McMurray, Washington County, Pennsylvania.

The data and letter urging EPA’s action were submitted by the Environmental Integrity Project on behalf of the Center for Effective Government (formerly OMB Watch), Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Citizen Shale, Clean Air Council, Clean Water Action, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Earthworks, Environment America, Environmental Advocates of New York, Natural Resources Defense Council, PennEnvironment, San Juan Citizens Alliance, and Texas Campaign for the Environment.