Journalism in the Public Interest

EPA’s Letters to Fracking Companies Request Information, With a Legal Threat


A drilling rig in Wyoming. (Abrahm Lustgarten/ProPublica)

The Environmental Protection Agency has issued letters to nine natural gas drilling companies requesting “cooperation in a scientific study” of hydraulic fracturing and how it affects drinking water and public health, the agency announced on Thursday. Buried further down in the document, however, is a veiled threat to take legal action if the information isn’t provided (Read a copy of the letter [PDF]):

EPA is requesting that you provide this information voluntarily; however, to the extent that EPA does not receive sufficient data in response to this letter, EPA will be exploring legal alternatives to compel submission of the needed information.

The agency seems to be taking names with this latest request. The letter calls for a corporate officer to certify that the information provided is, to the best of his or her knowledge, “true, accurate and complete,” and it requires the company to specify the source of each piece of information by name, position and title. These two requirements could be important, should the information provided prove to be insufficient or inaccurate.

Chemicals used in the hydrofracking process, as we’ve noted, have generally been treated as trade secrets. The EPA said it would honor companies’ claims to confidentiality as long as it is explicitly requested at the time the information is submitted.

It’s also worth noting that in the letter, the agency requested that companies turn over not only the formulation of the companies’ fracking fluids, but also “all data and studies in the Company’s possession relating to the human health and environmental impacts and effects of all products and constituents” in it. (Information on certain chemicals’ effect on human health, aside from industry data, is likely to be scarce.)

The EPA also called for far more information than is currently known about specific sites at which hydrofracking fluids have been used, and the companies for which these services were performed. From the letter:

Identify all sites where, and all persons to whom, the Company:

i.   provided hydraulic fracturing fluid services that involve the use of hydraulic fracturing fluids for the year prior to the date of this letter, and

ii.   plans to provide hydraulic fracturing fluid services that involve the use of hydraulic fracturing fluids during one year after the date of this letter.

According to the letter, companies have seven days to provide notice as to whether they will submit the requested information, and 30 days for the full response.

Stephanie Meadows, a policy adviser for the American Petroleum Institute — an industry trade group — told The New York Times she was “disappointed with the threats” from the agency.

“I’m not sure how they would do that, or if they even have the authority to do that,” Meadows said. “I thought we’d made it clear all along that we want to be helpful.”

A spokeswoman for Halliburton, one of nine companies sent a letter, told the Times that the company planned to cooperate fully with the EPA:

“Halliburton supports and continues to comply with state, local and federal requirements promoting the forthright disclosure of the chemical additives that typically comprise less than one-half of 1 percent of our hydraulic fracturing solutions,” Ms. [Cathy G. Mann] said by e-mail. “We view this both as a means of enhancing public safety, and as a way to engage the public in a straightforward manner.”

If this attitude is genuine, it would be quite a shift. Halliburton hasn’t always acted cooperatively when asked to reveal the chemicals in its fracking fluid. When state regulators in Colorado demanded that the company hand over its recipe, the company threatened to end its natural-gas operations in the state, before eventually reaching a compromise to disclose some ingredients to regulators, but not to the public.

The EPA had concluded in 2004 that hydrofracking did not pose a threat to drinking water. That report, as we’ve noted, was used to justify legislation exempting the natural gas extraction process from oversight under the Safe Drinking Water Act — an exemption that is now being re-examined as awareness and public concern have grown over the potential risks that fracking can pose to water supplies.

About fracking time, EPA!
This noxious activity has absolutely no regard for either the serious public health concerns or the extent of the environmental destruction. Does anyone know exactly what fracking fluid is made of?
I just hope that the EPA have the guts to see this investigation through and are not ‘side-tracked’ by state and government ‘special’ interests and big money that will do everything it can to protect its investments.
If anyone wants to know more about this industry check out the documentary, ‘Gasland’ which won a special prize at ‘Sundance’ and was featured on HBO in June.

State and Local agencies should continue to keep the oversight of these activities, it will be important with those who have boots on the ground to oversee the oil and gas industry versus talking heads based out of Washington. 
Gasland is full of misleading and frankly wrong information.  If you would like to do your research go to

If you are going to do a documentary Mr. Fox do your research and shame on you HBO.

Stephanie Meadows, the policy adviser for the American Petroleum Institute, should review her history. The industry stymied the 2004 review and refused to divulge the specific nature of the chemicals used in the solutions used in explosive fracturing process. And the only reason they got away with this was that the EPA was lorded over by so-called conservatives appointed by the Bush/Cheney administration. Clearly they were protecting short term profits at the potential expense of clean water. Oh, and by the way, 1/2 of 1 percent of the 600,000 gallons per average well used in is equal to 3000 gallons of potentially toxic chemicals pumped into the ground and then exploded. Who knows what those chemicals become once they’ve been exploded underground. Hopefully we’ll be allowed to find out now that someone who’s not so closely allied with the industry has been elected to public service.

Thank you ProPublica for staying on this important story. My whole family lives in PA where drillers are swarming.
Chemicals in fracking fluid still being kept secret, claiming Trade Secret status. Thus:Drillers made ill by exposure to fluids cannot be treated adequately by physicians because the chemicals are unknown.
Land owners claiming well contamination cannot gain proof because chemicals harming their wells cannot be linked to drilling.
Water filtration of fracked fluids are questionable because the filtration centers do not know what they are expected to remove from the water before they pour it back into rivers and streams and drinking sources.
US DOE predicts PA hydro-fracking will require 100 billion gallons of water per year between now and 2012 to be mixed with these unknown chemicals and then returned to the environment.

Thank you ProPublica for your continued coverage!
I live in Pennsylvania and am greatly concerned since the neighbors above our land have signed with the gas company and we have well water.

Here is an interesting interview from a thirty year veteran from the gas industry, James Northrup. He reveals some very negative aspects of hydraulic fracking. :

A. Thomas Hunter

Sep. 11, 2010, 8:30 p.m.

There is NO WAY any of us - IN ANY WAY - are going to stop ANY of these corporations from doing whatever they want, whenever and however they choose.

And so, read your articles, make your calls to legislators and officials, picket, threaten, jump up and down. But don’t expect anything approaching validation, recognition or action.

The sad truth? You don’t own or control this country. These companies, however, do.

Good luck!

Talk about closing the barn door . . . but to quote another old saw - better late than never.

Unfortunately after following this story unfold in Pa. I am beginning to agree with Mr. Hunter; but those concerned with the consequences of fracking must not give up making their voices heard.  A million “I told you sos” won’t unpollute our streams and rivers.

I thank you too, ProPublica.

Marian Wang has done a great job reporting on environmental issues.  Please followup on the responses to EPA.  Lisa Jackson has the reputation of saying everything the environmental community wants to hear but not taking action to implement anything effective.

I have a letter sent to me by Chesapeake that states 7,500,000 MILLION gallons of water would be used to frack a nearby well…PER DAY!

All the pressure used to frack could force itself or gas into fissures in the shale and defects in the other rock layers.that head vertically or will in time meet with fissures that will likely carry the contaminated water or the gas to the ground water.  I am not a geologist; this seems to me to be a logical happening over time.  So how can the companies say it ‘can’t happen’.  The gulf oil spill wasn’t possible, either, as I remember.

Thank you, ProPublica, for reporting what none of the local papers seem capable of doing.

CathyJ do you work for a company that is involved this process? If so what is in the chemical, simple question? I hope you and your family or anyone who supports this puts their money where there mouth is and drinks the water that pumped from the site where the Fracking occurs.

A. Thomas Hunter

Sep. 15, 2010, 2:15 p.m.

Don’t want to sound defeatist, but with trillions of dollars in potential revenue and billions invested, with drilling sites already active, there isn’t a force on this planet that can or will stop this process - now or ever. The process is in effect and the damage is done. As we speak their lobbyists are in Albany, Harrisburg, Washington - already twelve steps ahead of us, smoothing the road ahead - threatening, cajoling, paying into campaign funds, calling in markers. And they’re already contacting potential mid-term candidates doing the same things. The time to have stopped this was ten years ago, when the process started, but we were in the dark. They snuck it by us, and they’re going to win. Bet your house on it. Sorry. I’m in the same boat. We aren’t represented in our legislatures any more. They are.

Boris Matthews

Sep. 18, 2010, 10:57 a.m.

So let’s encourage (?) (maybe: demand) that the EPA require standard tracer additives to the fracking fluids used. That way there would be no question about whether or not ground water contamination came from the fracking process. And any fracking fluid randomly tested that lacked tracer chemicals would be prima facia evidence of evasion of the rules.

Seems simple enough to me. And if the fracking companies complain, what are they afraid of?


PS. Keep up the good work at ProPublica!

Commenting is not available in this section entry.

Get Updates

Our Hottest Stories