Friday, June 18, 2010

Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (TRI)

Thousands of the nearly 270,000 wells drilled in the West since 1980 are exempt from the federal Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act of 1986. The act requires companies to report the release of significant levels of toxic substances to EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory (TRI). The Oil and Gas Accountability Project, a reform organization, has said that the law would likely apply to benzene, toluene and xylene, chemicals often used in oil and gas drilling (OGAP Exemptions 2008).

A 2008 report by EWG and the Paonia, Colorado-based Endocrine Disruption exchange found that Colorado’s natural gas industry uses at least 36 chemicals listed under the TRI (EWG and TEDX 2008, TRI Chemicals 2008).

The industry typically guards its drilling chemicals as trade secrets. In 2008, in LaPlata County, Colorado, nurse Cathy Behr almost died from contact with the clothing of a worker she had treated. The worker’s clothes were permeated with a chemical fluid called Zeta Flow used in natural gas drilling. The company that made the fluid refused to identify it, citing trade secrets to the nurse’s physician even as he was laboring frantically to save her life. The doctor had to guess how to treat Behr, who was suffering from liver failure, respiratory failure and heart failure. She later recovered (Hanel 2008).

Even if the toxic release law applied to the oil and gas industry, individual wells might not report their discharges because current rules, watered down in 2006, set a floor of 2,000 pounds of total releases per facility. The previous threshold had a lower limit of 500 pounds (EWG Stolen Inventory 2008, CFR TRI Threshold 2008).

The Colorado legislature enacted limited disclosure of toxic chemical discharges in its recent sweeping overhaul of oil and gas drilling standards. Among other provisions, the state will require companies to keep records of chemical products used at each well when 500 pounds or more of the substance is injected into the well or stored for injection at the well site. But the nature of those chemicals will largely be hidden, with some exceptions for state officials and medical personnel (COGCC 2008).

Environmental Working Group

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