What’s a little fracking between friends? Nothing to worry about, apparently, so long as you tell everyone about it. The EPA has just released some new rules about fracking in Southern California waters — a practice that has been quietly going on for decades — and the rule includes an interesting little sidebar. By interesting, by the way, we mean terrifying: it doesn’t say oil companies shouldn’t release fracking chemicals into the water, only that “…if there is a discharge of the fluids, [oil and gas companies should] report the chemical formulation with the quarterly discharge monitoring report.”
In other words: go right ahead and frack, and don’t worry about releasing chemicals into the environment, just be sure to tell your pals at the EPA about it…every three months, when you’re filing routine paperwork. Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, 300,000 West Virginia residents are without drinking water because a company didn’t think it needed to report a chemical spill in a timely fashion, illustrating how much we can rely on industry to look out for public safety.
What spurred the rule, and what does it really mean? Well, you’ll be glad to hear that the driving force was environmentalists and activists just like you. In coordinated protest, comment, and organizing, people from California and elsewhere along with groups like the Center for Biological Diversity pressured the EPA to regulate fracking in Southern California more closely.
In response to the public pressure, the EPA realized that it needed to adjust its regulations accordingly to speak to the concerns voiced by members of the public and environmental advocacy groups, as it notes in the new rules.
Environmentalists are concerned that the chemicals used in fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, could pose environmental and human health risks. Many are not well-understood, while oil and gas companies have remained very secretive about the compounds they use, claiming the need to protect industrial secrets. This makes it hard to study what is being used and how it’s affecting the environment, posing a particular problem when fracking operations leak, a concern no matter where installations are but particularly in the ocean, where there’s so much vulnerable territory to damage.
While fewer chemicals are needed in oceanic fracking operations, they’re still used, and they still leak. Advocates were hoping for a ban or moratorium on fracking, and at the very least, some tougher restrictions on chemicals and spills. What they got was more or less a polite request from the EPA to drop a line every now and then with a quick note if anything had been spilled, which is hardly ideal, especially since it means companies need to be honest about what they spilled, how much of it, when, and where — something many may be reluctant to do.
Furthermore, the rule applies only to new drilling jobs. Existing boreholes and equipment aren’t subject to the regulations, and can continue to be operated as they were before. This reduces accountability even further, making it that much more difficult to protect the environment from potentially hazardous chemicals, some of which will undoubtedly end up on beaches and in inhabited areas.
Photo Credit: Antandrus