Spencer Fane LLP Logo

Groundbreaking EPA Enforcement at Hydraulic Fracturing Sites

In a first-of-its-kind enforcement action in the nation, EPA Region 3 has entered into a consent agreement with Talisman Energy USA Inc. for violations of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) at natural gas exploration and production sites involved in fracking operations in Pennsylvania.

Hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, involves the pumping of large quantities of water and chemical additives (such as diesel fuel and petroleum-based compounds) into shale and similar geologic deposits to maximize the extraction of underground reserves of resources such as natural gas. Although the technology has existed for many years, recent application has opened up new, relatively untapped deposits of natural gas in various regions of the United States. The technology, however, has also raised a vigorous debate about the potential environmental impacts of the practice and whether it leads to subsurface contamination of drinking water sources, as well as a myriad of related issues such as chemical storage and management, safe treatment of disposal fluids, and air quality issues.

EPCRA requires companies that store chemicals above certain thresholds to notify local fire departments, as well as local and state emergency response agencies, and to submit copies of Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) and submit annual reports of the chemicals stored on-site.

The EPA settlement, finalized on July 3, 2012, involved alleged EPCRA violations at 52 natural gas drilling sites, production sites, and compressor station locations in Pennsylvania. The company paid a $62,457 civil penalty to resolve the matter. Notably, the company self-reported the violations under the EPA Audit Policy for Voluntary Self-Disclosures, but EPA determined that the company did not satisfy all elements of the audit policy because the violations were purportedly not independently identified.