Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a rule that would require notification to EPA before manufacturing, importing or processing a particular type of chemical commonly used in hydraulic fracturing operations.  These chemicals, described as quaternary ammonium compounds, are used in fracking fluids to eliminate bacteria in the water that produces corrosive by-products.

The new rule, promulgated under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), finds that the use of quaternary ammonium compounds in drilling fluids is a “significant new use” that may cause adverse environmental effects.  EPA made this determination based on a prediction that the compounds may be toxic to aquatic organisms at concentrations in excess of 11 ppb in surface waters.  EPA indicated that it does not expect releases of the compounds to surface waters but also recommended additional testing regarding the potential effects.

As a result of the new rule, effective July 8, 2013, a premanufacture notice must be submitted to EPA at least 90 days before manufacturing, importing or processing quaternary ammonium compounds for use in drilling fluids.  EPA is accepting “written adverse or critical comments” on the rule until June 10, 2013.

This may be the first of many new rules addressing the chemical components of fracking fluids.  None of the other 14 chemicals addressed in the same rule relate to drilling operations.  However, EPA has indicated in the past that it intends to direct fracking fluid disclosure requirements through TSCA.

Co-authored by Michael N. Mills and Robin B. Seifried.