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Disclose fracking chemicals, EU tells firms

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has created a label to identify chemicals used for fracking. Until now, the REACH use categories under which chemicals are registered were not specific enough to enable ‘fracking’ use to be specified or traced. Now a new use category for ‘oil and gas field fracturing products’ has been created, and companies must update their registration dossiers.

The process of fracking involves injecting huge amounts of water containing chemicals deep into the ground to enlarge fractures in rock and release oil and gas. On request from the EU Commission, ECHA has created a new category for “oil and gas field fracturing products” for registration of such chemicals under the REACH regulation. The new use category will become available in the registration process next year. (ENDS Europe 19 March 2015)

Firms that have already registered chemicals that are used for fracking should update the registration dossiers to indicate this use. ECHA says it will not be compulsory for firms to flag up that chemicals are being used for fracking, and there is no immediate action planned if firms do not make the requested disclosures. However, Article 10 (a.iii) of REACH specifies that a registration dossier must include the use of the substance, so HEAL interprets this as a legal obligation for companies in contradiction to ECHA. Being able to trace which chemicals have been registered under REACH for fracking purposes is a significant matter of public interest and of governmental monitoring and enforcement capacity, given the health and environmental impacts of fracking chemicals.

The accidental and intended release underground and at ground level, into soil, air and water of hazardous fracking chemicals, has attracted a lot of controversy. The inherent risk of contamination of agricultural land, conservation and residential areas, drinking water, and air has provoked widespread and justified concern. Aside from the fracking chemicals themselves, there is the toxicity of the chemical mixtures that re-emerge from underground, where the fracking chemicals have mixed with radioactive substances and other naturally occurring toxic substances such as heavy metals. Alongside these toxic chemical contamination concerns, there are other environmental health and safety concerns about fracking.

The REACH law obliges companies to carry out an exposure assessment for hazardous chemicals, demonstrating how damage to the environment and to human health can be avoided. REACH places the burden of proof on companies. Firms that use or supply fracturing fluids but have not received fracking-specific safety information from the firm that registered the chemical should request this.

Otherwise, companies using fracking chemicals will have to do their own safety assessment and report the use to ECHA. In non-binding recommendations last year the EU Commission asked Member States to ensure that manufacturers, importers and downstream users of fracking chemicals disclosed this use under REACH. However, according to the reports that EU countries have sent in to the commission, most of them which allow or may soon allow fracking, do not have policies on fracking chemicals disclosure (Chemical Watch 11 March 2015).

So whilst having a new use descriptor in the ECHA registration system is a definite improvement, it is nevertheless difficult to see to what extent it will be possible to formally identify which fracking chemicals are used in Europe with the REACH system, in the near or medium term.

More information

EDC-Free campaign supporter The Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX) maintains a publicly available database of the potential health effects of chemicals used during natural gas operations. The list currently contains nearly 1,000 products, but it is by no means complete.

Summary Statement of the data contained in the Excel spreadsheet (PDF).

Spreadsheet of products, chemicals and their health effects (Excel). More information available from the TEDX website

More information available from the TEDX website here

Last updated on 15 April 2015

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