Ohio Anti-Fracking Activists Want to Delay First Responders from Receiving Important Information
Back in October of 2013, Energy In Depth reported on how anti-fracking activists in Ohio were trying to slow down first responders with added bureaucracy, based on dubious assumptions about regulatory exemptions. In that report, we discussed how disastrous it could be if first responders were sent back to the stone ages by being forced to add layers of bureaucracy by having to leaf through paper records to gain access to important information required under the Emergency Planning Community Right to Know Act of 1986 (EPCRA).
Since our report, there has been a lot of activity going on regarding this matter, as it is clear that this antiquated system of paper reporting is a nightmare. This past weekend, the Columbus Dispatch wrote a story regarding this subject matter entitled “Bill alters reporting of fracking chemicals in Ohio.”
The article alleges that the way companies report hydraulic fracturing chemicals would be changed under new provision of recently passed HB 490. First and foremost, EPCRA is not specific to just the oil and gas industry. Second, the way in which the information is being captured via the online system is the same system that first responders in Ohio have been using since 2001. The environmental activists wanted to see that system changed to a paper system, and they were sorely disappointed to learn that, under U.S. EPA guidelines, the states were given flexibility to capture that information the way they see fit. So what we are seeing here is not only a misrepresentation of facts, but a good old fashioned case of sour grapes by the anti-fracking community. As a point of fact, Ohio is leading the way not only by complying with federal statute, but getting ahead of the curve with HB 490, which includes guidelines that provide more transparency and timely access to information through a web based system. But don’t take my word for it; take a look at the history of this issue and the facts to debunk the misleading claims found in the above article.
As a reminder, Congress passed EPCRA as a means of supporting local emergency planners and responders with information concerning potential chemical hazards present in their communities. It’s important to note that the individual states were given the flexibility to implement EPCRA in a manner that would best suit them. This issue of jurisdiction — if the states have the authority verses the federal government, and the issue of how information is captured — through an outdated paper system or via a website, is really the heart of the most recent discussion. Ohio activists would like you to believe that the state does not have the jurisdiction regarding the implementation of the Emergency Planning Community Right to Know Act, prolonging an ongoing effort to have the federal government completely regulate every aspect of hydraulic fracturing.
However, the facts simply do not support their attempts to mislead the public. For example, on July 13, 2010 the EPA published guidelines, which outlined various reporting options available to them. One of those options included the state’s choice to use the State Emergency Response Commission (SERC) or Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPC) and the local fire departments’ joint access to information outlined in federal statute under EPCRA. In short, federal law says that Ohio can use SERC so long as it meets EPCRA requirements. How that information is obtained, paper reporting or through a website, is a moot point. As a reminder, what Ohio did back in 2001 through House Bill 94, revolutionized the filing requirements and streamlined the process by utilizing a website. This was cutting edge at the time, and still is to this day.
Recently the Ohio statehouse decided to dive into this issue again, beefing up this existing web based system and further ensuring that our first responders are given the information they need. This is yet another example of Ohio continuing to lead in regulatory reforms as the development of oil and natural gas continues. HB 490, 1509.231 which was recently passed, includes information on this matter. In it, we see specific language which states that the information submitted through the online database will:
Ensure that the information submitted for the database will be made immediately available to the emergency response commission, the local emergency planning committee of the emergency planning district in which a facility is located, and the fire department having jurisdiction over a facility; (3) Ensure that the information submitted for the database includes the information required to be reported under section 3750.08 of the Revised Code and rules adopted under section 3750.02 of the Revised Code. (C) As used in this section, “emergency planning district,” “facility,” and “fire department” have the same meanings as in section 3750.01 of the Revised Code.
It is very clear that in Ohio, the metrics by which we adhere to federal statute are more efficient and effective with regard to chemical disclosure and access to information in emergency situations. The anti-development groups either have not read the EPA guidelines, or simply want to mislead the public about clear statutory obligations and provisions. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources continues to do its part by not only maintaining records and a system that has worked for first responders for the past 13 years, but through HB 490 we see the agency trying to improve upon the database by continuing to provide information quickly to emergency personnel to protect the health and safety of our communities.
The website is real time and accessible, which is exactly why the Ohio Fire Chiefs Association wrote a letter supporting the online system. If the health and safety were of first priority for these activists groups, they would not be opposing the passage of HB 490, but instead encouraging these proactive measures by ODNR to move forward through the statehouse process.