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By E. Lynn Grayson
A recent lawsuit filed by 10 environmental groups against EPA alleges that EPCRA Section 313 Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) reporting should apply to oil and gas extraction companies. The environmental groups want TRI data regulatory requirements about releases to the environment to apply to oil drilling and exploration, hydraulic fracturing and natural gas processing activities.
According to the lawsuit recently filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, EPA conducted rulemaking in the 1996-1997 time frame to consider adding other industry sectors to the list of facilities required to complete TRI reporting. At that time, EPA concluded that "oil and gas extraction classified in SIC code 13 is believed to conduct significant management activities that involve EPCRA Section 313 chemicals." EPA did not regulate the oil and gas industry following these earlier rulemaking efforts and for that reason, in 2012, environmental groups petitioned EPA to initiate rulemaking to add the oil and gas industry to TRI reporting requirements. The lawsuit alleges that EPA has not responded to that petition.
The environmental groups also allege that 127 tons of hazardous air pollutants are released by the oil and gas industry annually as well as other releases to the environment through discharges to surface waters, contamination of groundwater, underground injection and disposal in landfills. The lawsuit contends that regulation of the oil and gas industry is even more important today given the expansion of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling.
The environmental groups bringing the lawsuit include the: Environmental Integrity Project, Center for Effective Government, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future, Clean Air Council, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Natural Resources Defense Council, Responsible Drilling Alliance, and Texas Campaign for the Environment.
The oil and gas industry has concluded that TRI requirements never were intended to cover such facilities given the few employees typically involved in these operations and the multitude of other regulations applicable to the oil and gas industry. They also look to the 1996-1997 rulemaking effort but with a different recollection recalling that EPA confirmed at that time that "…This industry group is unique in that it may have related activities located over significantly large geographic areas. While together these activities may involve the management of significant quantities of EPCRA section 313 chemicals in addition to requiring significant employee involvement, taken at the smallest unit (individual well), neither the employee nor the chemical thresholds are likely to be met." Industry advocates have criticized these environmental groups, and particularly the Environmental Integrity Project, for attempting to manipulate data in order to oppose oil and gas development and seeking to impose additional regulatory requirements on an industry already heavily regulated.
The TRI program is an expansive regulatory initiative that mandates annual reporting obligations for certain facilities that fall within specific industry sectors, have 10 or more full time employees and manufacture or process 25,000 pounds of toxic chemicals subject to EPCRA Section 313 or otherwise use 10,000 pounds of these same chemicals in any given year. It is typically the case that many of the oil and gas extraction operations would not meet these reporting thresholds as previously concluded by EPA. It appears, however, that this issue may be debated once again in the context of this case.