After months of pressure from environmentalists, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has announced that it will phase out its use of some of the world’s most toxic and carcinogenic chemicals.
The announcement marks the end of a decades-long effort to use natural gas to frack the Bakken formation in North Dakota, and marks the culmination of a battle waged by environmentalists, consumer groups and some state lawmakers.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has called the use of gas for fracking the “most significant environmental harm” of fracking and promised to “continue to aggressively pursue ways to reduce its harmful impact.”
In a press conference Friday, the EPA announced it will eliminate the use in shale gas, a process in which water, sand and chemicals are injected deep underground to release gas trapped in shale rock.
“It is our duty to reduce and ultimately eliminate the exposure of our community to these chemicals,” Pruitt said.
The agency said it will stop the use on the Marcellus Shale formation, which sits near the state’s largest city, New York City.
The EPA will use the new rule as a model for how to regulate the gas industry and make sure it doesn’t damage public health.
It said the new rules will be enforced by an agency that is “pursuing a sound public health approach” in its fracking process.
Pruitt said in a statement that the move “represents the EPA’s continued commitment to working with states, industry, and the private sector to minimize and ultimately stop the exposure to these dangerous chemicals.”
The announcement comes amid growing concern that fracking could pose a greater risk to public health than previously thought, and has prompted a public health response from environmental groups and state lawmakers, including the governors of Pennsylvania and New York, who said the oil and gas industry needs to be more transparent about the chemicals it uses.
The EPA’s announcement was met with praise from environmentalists and consumer groups, including Environmental Working Group, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the American Chemistry Council.
The Center for Food Safety, the Environmental Working Research, and consumer watchdog group Food and Water Watch all called on the agency to phase out the use.
Katherine Houlton, the executive director of the environmental group Food & Water Watch, said the agency’s move is a “major victory” for the environment and public health, but added that it is too early to know if it will be enough to make a difference.
“I think we need more information, more data and we need to know the effects on health of these chemicals before we make any decisions,” she said.
“This is an important first step and we are very excited to see that we have the authority to get rid of these toxic chemicals.
But we need better science to see if we are seeing a health benefit.”
Perez told reporters at a Friday morning press conference that the new use of natural gas would be phased out in all shale gas operations starting in 2022, and that the EPA is working with the industry to develop a “plan” for how the chemical will be disposed of.
According to the EPA, the agency will use its authority under the Safe Drinking Water Act to review proposed natural gas extraction sites for the chemical, and will determine whether or not the chemicals are safe to use.
The chemicals will be “identified by EPA in a process that takes into account the impacts of the chemical on human health,” the agency said.
If the chemicals don’t pose a health risk, the decision will be made by the EPA to remove them from the environment.
The process would take several years, and a final decision would be made after the agency conducts further studies and reviews the results.
Last year, the state of New York stopped the use and production of two chemicals that the state had previously been allowed to use under the state chemical plan: camphor oil and camphor essential oil.
A new state regulation requiring that the chemicals be used in a safe manner for drinking water was also introduced in the state.
In addition, the Pennsylvania legislature passed a bill that would require a new fracking permit before fracking in the Marcolin Formation in Pennsylvania, a region that was once considered the most pristine of the country’s shale formations.
Critics of the fracking industry, including some of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees, have also been urging the EPA not to ban the chemicals from the Marchetti Formation in New York.
The Pennsylvania legislation was supported by the state Attorney General, but Trump’s administration is opposed to the new legislation.
At a press briefing on Friday, Pruitt said he was confident the new regulation would be “pro-environment” and that it “is consistent with the best available science.”
“The agency’s actions today are based on the best science and best science-based guidance,” he said.