U.S. takes first step toward fracking disclosure rules

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The Obama administration announced its first steps on Friday toward possibly tighter regulation of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, seeking public input on whether companies should be required to disclose the contents of fluids used in the oil and natural gas drilling technique.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said it would gather public comment for 90 days on whether to require chemical manufacturers to disclose the contents of fluids they inject into shale seams to release trapped oil or gas.

Fracking technology has sparked a boom in U.S. energy production, but critics worry that it is polluting drinking water supplies. The environmental group Earthjustice petitioned the EPA to consider the rules on fracking fluids.

"Today's announcement represents an important step in increasing the public's access to information on chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing activities," said James Jones, EPA's assistant administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention.

Hydraulic fracturing is now regulated by the states, with no significant federal oversight. Some big oil- and gas-producing states require some disclosure about the mix of chemicals and fluids used to frack thousands of wells across the country.

Jones told reporters the EPA wants to learn what is happening at the state level and what voluntary mechanisms are available for reporting. The EPA said its notice may not result in formal measures, and it would consider non-regulatory approaches.

Deborah Goldberg, an attorney with Earthjustice, said the EPA was being "less than aggressive" on the issue. The group has asked the EPA to require chemical manufacturers and processors to publish detailed information about the content of fluids used in fracking. It also requested that those companies submit all health and safety studies available on those fluid mixtures.

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