Large oil and gas facilities across the U.S. are releasing a total of 8.5 million tons of chemicals into the environment each year without having to report their emissions to a public EPA database, according to a new report.
The report, put together by the Environmental Integrity Project, states that a loophole allows oil and gas facilities — excluding refineries but including wells, storage tanks, gas processing plants and most pump stations — to avoid reporting their emissions to the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI). TRI is a public database operated by the EPA that keeps track of the release and management of certain potentially harmful toxic chemicals. Researchers from EIP looked at national and state emissions inventories for Colorado, Louisiana, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wyoming, and found that 395 facilities emitted more than 10,000 pounds each of at least one toxic chemical, a threshold which would have required them to report their emissions under the TRI if they had been facilities under another industry.
Though the EIP researchers were able to determine some of the emissions information for these facilities through state and national records, they said on a call last week that data for some years were missing, and some states don’t require facilities to report quantities of individual chemicals. If the facilities were required to report to TRI, it would make it much easier for citizens who live nearby these facilities to find out about what chemicals the facilities are emitting, the EIP representatives said.
“It certainly would make it a lot better if all of this were on one website with every environmental medium of release,” Adam Kron, an attorney at EIP, said on the call. “Emissions data by nature is just air releases, whereas the TRI has water, land, air, injection wells, disposal in landfills. So, for the public that’s a lot easier to be able to see that, rather than going after six different sources of data that may or may not exist.”
EIP representatives said on the call that oil and gas facilities weren’t included under the TRI when it was first developed because it was too complicated to determine what constituted a “facility” in the industry — whether a single well would be counted as one, or whether a group of wells would. Richard Metcalf, director of environmental affairs with the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, told the Times-Picayune that requiring oil and gas facilities to report to the TRI would be expensive and impractical, especially for small facilities.
But as the oil and gas industries are booming in many states, the EIP says it’s time for the EPA to include oil and gas facilities in the TRI. Last week, the group, joined by 13 other organizations, sent a letter to the EPA urging the agency to include oil and gas facilities in the TRI requirements.
“Many of these facilities are very close to where families live, right in the middle of neighborhoods or very close to homes,” Sharon Wilson, an organizer for Earthworks Oil and Gas Accountability Project, said on the call. “People need to know what their exposure is.”