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Uncle Sam’s Inaction on Fracking Fought in D.C.

(CN) - Two different federal complaints from environmentalists this week challenge inaction by the U.S. government over the booming practice of hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as fracking.

Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) led the first shot with a Jan. 7 federal complaint in Washington over the Environmental Protection Agency's refusal to make oil- and gas-extraction facilities report how their work contributes to the release of toxic pollutants.

Joined by eight other environmental groups, EIP called the oil- and gas-extraction industry "one of the largest sources of toxic releases in the United States."

"In air emissions alone, the industry releases an estimated 127,000 tons of hazardous air pollutants annually - more than any other industry sector except electric utilities," the complaint states.

This industry though still "remains exempt from one of the nation's most basic toxic pollution reporting mechanisms: the Toxics Release Inventory," according to the complaint.

EIP notes that Congress enacted the inventory in 1986, two years after toxic-gas emission from a chemical plant killed thousands of residents in Bhopal, India.

The inventory program requires facilities in certain industries to report annually the amount of toxic chemicals they release to the environment.

Though regulators considered the issue in the late 1990s, they decided not to require oil and gas extractors to report release of pollutants at that time, the groups said.

EIP added that this delay has continued despite the recent surge in domestic oil and gas production from technologies such as fracking and horizontal drilling.

It said the extraction industry is also using more toxic chemicals, many of which are harmful to human health.

"The industry releases toxic chemicals into the environment through a number of ways, including emissions to the air, discharges to surface waters, contamination of groundwater, underground injection, and disposal in landfills," the complaint states.

Air-emissions data collected from six states last January showed that large oil and gas facilities emit a combined 8.5 million tons of TRI-listed toxic chemicals each year, according to the complaint.

"Because federal and state disclosure requirements are full of gaps and exemptions and otherwise have not kept pace with industry expansion, public information about the oil and gas extraction industry's use and release of these toxic chemicals remains scant, particularly as compared to other industry sectors," the lawsuit states.

When the EPA previously chose to exempt the oil- and gas-extraction facilities as candidates for the inventory program, it allegedly cited the belief that certain facilities might not meet the threshold for reporting.

EIP said it belonged to a coalition that asked the EPA in October 2012 to remove this exemption. The agency has yet to make a decision, according to the lawsuit.

The groups want a response from the agency to that petition within 60 days.

They are represented by Adam Kron of Environmental Integrity Project.

Two different government agencies found themselves sued over fracking, by a different environmentalist group, on Jan. 8.

Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity brought its action over the failure by Uncle Sam to release records about the extent of fracking in the Gulf of Mexico.

Noting that over a year has passed since the government authorized fracking for at least 115 wells in the Gulf of Mexico, the center says its members and the local communities have a right to know where, when and how much fracking has occurred in the gulf.

It claims the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management issued drilling permits without a proper environmental analysis and kept the information about them from the public.

The group requested such information with a request under the Freedom of Information Act in October 2014, but no response has come, according to the action.

Attorneys William Snape and Kristen Monsell filed this complaint for the center.

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