It would seem that efforts to require natural gas drillers to disclose the make-up of fluids they use in hydraulic fracturing are gaining momentum. Just last week, the Governor of Texas signed a bill that will require companies to make public the chemicals they use in fracking. An according to a report in The Wall Street Journal, even the industry appears to be warming to the idea of fracking disclosure.
Many environmental groups, however, see current disclosure efforts as half measures that still don’t go far enough to protect public health and the environment. They continue to call for legislation that would subject fracking to federal regulation.
In hydraulic fracturing, fracking fluids are injected into the ground at high pressure to shake loose gas and oil deposits. Because of a loophole in the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, energy companies are not required to disclose the chemicals used in the fluids. Studies have shown that fracking fluids often contain some hazardous chemicals, including the carcinogen, benzene, and diesel. Opponents of fracking are concerned that this type of natural gas drilling could lead to pollution of vital drinking water sources, either through the release of naturally-occurring hazardous substances such as arsenic, mercury, heavy metals, and radioactive materials from underground, or as a result of spills or leaks involving fracking fluid or fracking wastewater. They have long pushed for national regulations, among other things, that would require frackers to publicly disclose the chemicals used in their fracking fluids.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the signing of the Texas fracking disclosure bill is a significant development because the state is extremely friendly to drillers, and the natural gas industry wields a lot of political clout. Several other states, including Pennsylvania and Wyoming, also now require drillers to disclose the make-up of fracking fluids. And according to the Journal, the industry – which once opposed disclosure, claiming the make-up of fluids was a trade secret – claims to have “seen the light.” Not only did the industry actively support the Texas legislation, but some companies are starting to provide voluntary disclosure on a new website called Fracfocus.org.
The new Texas law requires that drillers in that state also list most chemicals – but not all -on Fracfocus.org. Those that aren’t listed will be disclosed through a separate process. And according to the Journal, drillers may ask for some chemicals to be withheld as trade secrets.
Those types of provisions have made fracking opponents skeptical about the current disclosure efforts. The Environmental Defense Fund, for example, which at one time supported the Texas bill, did an about face after various changes were made that favored the industry, including the provision to list some chemicals separately from others. According to the Journal, environmentalists say that neither the voluntary efforts nor state legislation enacted up until this point go far enough, and they have called for a mandatory, national chemical database to list fracking fluid ingredients.
“Regardless of what state you live in, we think you deserve to know,â€ Amy Mall, a senior policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council, told the Journal.