By Ben Geman - 11/23/11 08:29 PM EST
Earthjustice led a suite of groups that petitioned EPA to craft new rules in August. Read The Hill's August coverage of the petition here.
Owens’s letter and a carefully worded statement from EPA underscore the explosive politics surrounding fracking.
The method — which involves high-pressure injections of water, chemicals and sand into rock formations to free trapped gas — is enabling a major U.S. development boom.
The federal Energy Information Administration estimates that gas from shale formations will account for 47 percent of U.S. gas production in 2035, up from 16 percent in 2009.
But the fracking expansion is also bringing fears of groundwater contamination and other environmental and health impacts.
The Obama administration has sought to emphasize its support for expanded production while also showing that it’s moving to address environmental concerns.
Owens’s letter says EPA expects that its eventual rules will focus on obtaining “aggregate pictures” of the chemicals and mixtures in order to “complement” well-by-well disclosure programs in states.
“EPA is exploring an approach that would minimize reporting burden and costs, take advantage of existing information, and avoid duplication of efforts,” EPA said in a statement.
“EPA believes that the development of this country’s natural gas resources should continue to grow responsibly, building off the important work that has already been done by the states, the industry, and others to disclose crucial information to the American public,” EPA said.
The agency is granting only part of a wider petition.
EPA earlier this month said it would not agree to require new toxicity testing under TSCA, and on Wednesday EPA said it would not require submission of information on other chemicals used in oil-and-gas exploration and production.
Separately, the Interior Department is planning to propose rules to govern hydraulic fracturing on public lands. The rules would address chemical disclosure, wellbore integrity and management of so-called flowback water from well sites.
Hydraulic fracturing, used along with horizontal drilling techniques, is prompting a major expansion in production from shale rock formations in Pennsylvania, Texas and elsewhere.
Owens’s letter pledges to work with states, industry and public interest groups, vowing that they will be “full partners in this discussion.”
It’s not clear if EPA’s action will satisfy the environmental groups that wanted a broader set of new requirements around toxicity testing and other areas.
Advocates who filed the petition told reporters in August that they would weigh litigation if EPA rejected it.