Natural Gas Drillers on Federal Lands May Have to Disclose Fracking Fluids, Interior Department Says

Natural gas drillers engaged in <"">hydraulic fracturing may have to disclose the chemicals that make up fracking fluids if they want to operate on federal lands. According to a report in the Houston Chronicle, the US Interior Department announced it is weighing the new disclosure requirements and other regulations on Monday, during a one-day forum on fracking practices.

Fracking is a drilling technique that involves injecting water, sand, and a cocktail of chemicals at high pressure into rock formations thousands of feet below the surface. The chemicals that make up that fracking fluid are cause for concern. They may include, among other things, barium, strontium, benzene, glycol-ethers, toluene, 2-(2-methoxyethoxy) ethanol, and nonylphenols. All have been linked to health disorders when human exposure is too high. Thanks to a move by Congress in 2005, fracking is exempt from federal regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act. As a result, frackers don’t have to disclose the chemicals that make up there fracking fluids.

Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Texas, Wyoming, Colorado and other states that set atop shale formations rich in natural gas have seen fracking booms in recent years. However, environmentalists worry that the process could lead to polluted water supplies. In several of these states, fracking is already a suspect in some instances of water contamination.

According to the Houston Chronicle, fracking is used in nine out of 10 wells on public lands, but the Bureau of Land Management, which oversees 250 million acres of public lands and 48,000 drilling leases, has not updated regulations for fracturing in years. Despite the risks, the federal government remains committed to gas drilling.

“There is a bright future with respect to natural gas in the United States of America,” Salazar said at the Interior Department forum. But, he added, the nation must “move forward in a way that can reassure the American public that what we are doing is in fact safe and is protective of the environment.”

According to a Bloomberg report, Interior Deputy Secretary David Hayes said during Monday’s conference that the department is “engaging in the process to explore whether we need to revisit our policies regarding hydraulic fracturing.” That includes evaluating whether to require identification of the chemicals used in fracking fluids.

As fracking has become more common, momentum has been building to regulate the industry. Earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency began a study of the environmental impact of fracking at the direction of the US Congress. Recently, the agency subpoenaed Halliburton Co., a major player in the industry, to force it to provide information about its fracking fluids. Even Wyoming, a state long-friendly to the industry, now requires drillers to publicly disclose the contents of their drilling fluids.

Perhaps seeing the writing on the wall, some drillers have begun to voluntarily disclose that information. According to a Platts report, ExxonMobil, the largest natural gas producer in the US, said yesterday it is working with other producers to develop a framework under which companies will disclose the chemical composition of fluids used in the hydraulic fracturing process.

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