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Fracking Fire Intensifies Push to Change Ohio Chemical Disclosure Laws

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PHOTO: This fire at a fracking well site in Monroe County is intensifying efforts by some to update Ohio's chemical disclosure laws. Photo courtesy of the Monroe County Emergency Management Agency.
PHOTO: This fire at a fracking well site in Monroe County is intensifying efforts by some to update Ohio's chemical disclosure laws. Photo courtesy of the Monroe County Emergency Management Agency.
 By Mary KuhlmanContact
July 8, 2014

WOODSFIELD, Ohio - Environmentalists say the recent fire at a hydraulic fracturing well in southeastern Ohio highlights the flaws in state and federal disclosure laws for chemicals used in "fracking."

The fire at the Monroe County well site on June 28 spread to 20 nearby trucks on the drilling pad, and required additional firefighters from six counties to contain it. Melissa English, development director with Ohio Citizen Action, says first responders were probably unaware of the chemicals involved in the accident because the only ones listed were "condensate and produced water."

"There were more chemicals on-site at the time of the fire, because they had started fracking by that time," says English. "They had started actually stimulating the well to produce oil and gas, which they hadn't done at the time the hazardous chemical inventory was filed last year."

Under federal requirements, hazardous chemicals must be reported annually, and drillers must file reports for any additional chemicals brought on-site. For chemicals deemed "hazardous," drillers have 90 days to file. For chemicals termed "extremely hazardous," drillers have 30 days. English says it's possible during that 30- or 90-day window an accident could occur - and first responders would likely be unaware of the chemicals on-site.

Under Ohio law, oil and gas drillers are not required to disclose the chemicals they use. Teresa Mills with the Center for Health, Environment and Justice is among those who have worked to end Ohio's exemption for the fracking industry and bring the state in line with federal requirements.

"This antiquated way of presenting chemical hazards is unacceptable," says Mills. "All of this information can be digitized. You should be able to pull it up in a matter of seconds. It shouldn't take us fighting, begging and pleading to get information."

Campaign organizer Nathan Rutz with Ohio Citizen Action in Cleveland says chemicals used in fracking are a matter of public health. He says disclosure laws should be clarified to eliminate any confusion.

"The Ohio law needs to be harmonized with the federal law," says Rutz, "because Ohio still exempts oil and gas specifically from reporting. But the federal law also needs to require quicker reporting when hazardous chemicals are brought on-site, so there isn't a blind spot in emergency responders' knowledge."

Ohio lawmakers are considering House Bill 490, which includes a provision repealing exemptions for the oil and gas industry, so drillers and fracking operators will be required to report hazardous chemicals to state and local emergency planners and fire departments more promptly.

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