EPA OKs more time to report on hazardous fracking materials

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency has granted companies a one-month extension to submit information about hazardous chemicals used and stored at oil and gas drilling locations to local emergency personnel.

On Sept. 11, the OEPA issued a letter saying oil and gas well owners and operators had to file documentation outlining what hazardous materials were on site above certain thresholds with the agency’s State Emergency Response Commission, county local emergency planning commissions and fire departments who cover the area. Ohio law had previously allowed this information to be filed along with state information for oil and gas companies, but the U.S. EPA recently ruled the requirements of the federal Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act had to be met separately.

The reports are standard requirements for other industries handling hazardous materials, so first responders can know what they might be dealing with should an emergency arise at a site. The filing deadline for an annual report was March 1, 2013, but because oil and gas wells were notified after that date, they were given until Nov. 15.

Chris Abbruzzese, deputy director for communications with the Ohio EPA, said the agency has been working with the Ohio Oil and Gas Association to present seminars on meeting the requirements. However, it has become apparent that some entities need additional time.

“The SERC recognizes that facilities are diligently working to compile the information needed to comply with EPCRA and is providing an extension, asking companies to submit their reports no later than Dec. 15, 2013,” he said.

Colorado-based PDC Energy Inc., which has drilled two wells in Washington County and has three more permitted, fully intends to comply with the rules, said Michael Edwards, senior director of investor relations for the company.

“In our normal course of business, our operations in Colorado and West Virginia, I think there are very similar regulations,” he said.

In Monroe County, 35 wells have been drilled or are being drilled into the Marcellus and Utica shale formations, another eight are producing and 30 more have been permitted, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. County emergency management agency director and LEPC coordinator Phillip Keevert said some companies have already submitted their information and others have advised him they’re working on it.

“They’re reporting like they’re supposed to,” Keevert said. “The companies were just socked with the deadline.”

Even before the requirement was made official, officials said the companies have been working with first responders to plan for potential emergencies.

“They’ve talked to us. We’ve had training and so forth,” said Sardis Volunteer Fire Department Chief Ralph Hall. “We need to work with them … so we know what to expect and what to do.”

Caldwell Volunteer Fire Department Chief Aaron Reed said there are multiple well sites in his department’s coverage area, including one in Washington County’s Aurelius Township. That one is being drilled by Marietta-based Triad Hunter, which has submitted the appropriate paperwork to the department.

“Traditionally, most of those companies, especially the bigger ones, are really good about it,” Reed said. “That’s their bread and butter. They have to conform to the EPA laws, or they pull the plug on them.”

Last year, Triad brought in Wild Well Control, a company that deals with blowouts and other emergencies at oil rigs, to work with first responders. Wild Well would actually be responsible for controlling such an emergency situation, but would work closely with first responders, said Rocky Roberts, vice president of Appalachian Operations for Triad Hunter.

“It’s important to have communication with the first responders,” he said. “It’s a way to protect themselves and the community around them.”

Triad invited Caldwell firefighters to tour the rig. The company also uses a scale model to familiarize first responders with the layout

“They already know the composition of the drilling rig, what people would be where and what chemicals would be stored there,” Roberts said.

Caldwell firefighters have also toured well pads operated by CONSOL Energy.

In Noble County, ODNR records show that as of Oct. 26, there were nine producing wells, 40 drilled or being drilled and 20 permitted.

The activity in Noble and Monroe counties is much greater than what Washington County has seen so far. ODNR lists just two drilled wells, one in Adams Township and one in Waterford Township. Triad Hunter’s well has also been drilled, Roberts said, although it and six others were still listed as permitted as of Oct. 26.

Jeff Lauer, director of the Washington County Emergency Management Agency, said Triad has been “going above requirements” when working with local officials. For example, the company let Lauer know when there might be some flaring, or burning off of excess gas, a standard safety precaution on such operations.

“So if somebody calls 911 … we already know what’s going on,” he said.

Citizens can request copies of the reports through their local emergency planning commission. There are protections granted for chemicals considered trade secrets; in those cases, identifying information for the chemical is replaced with general class or category information.

However, Abbruzzese noted that even information that can be legally withheld must be disclosed to health care professionals “who need the information for prevention and treatment activities.”

One of the primary hazardous materials on the large drilling sites is diesel fuel, Keevert said. Reed said there usually aren’t a lot of others “unless it’s right at fracking time.”

Triad Hunter’s document on file with Washington County lists diesel and barite, a substance that, according to the U.S. EPA website, is used as a weighting agent in drilling fluids, and can cause gastrointestinal disturbances and muscular weakness with acute exposure to amounts of more than 2 milligrams per liter.

Roberts said barite is not on-site all the time. It’s stored in bulk in closed containers, and when it’s added to drilling fluid, the materials contained within multiple casings to prevent them from coming into contact with surface water, he said.