Earlier this week, the natural gas drilling industry proudly introduced a searchable online registry for the disclosure of some of the chemicals used for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. But fracking critics havenâ€™t been wowed by the attempt at disclosure. They complain that the voluntary fracking disclosure registry, Fracfocus.org, doesn’t provide nearly enough information on the chemicals natural gas drillers use for fracking.
Fracking, which involves injecting a mixture of water and chemicals into shale deposits under high pressure to release natural gas, is generally exempt from regulation under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. As a result, the federal government does not require natural gas drillers to disclose the ingredients in their fracking fluid, and most regulation of hydraulic fracturing is left up to individual states.
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. Studies have shown that fracking fluids often contain some hazardous chemicals, including benzene and diesel. Environmentalists have been pushing for federal regulation of fracking, and among other things, have demanded mandatory disclosure of chemicals used in fracking fluids.
According to the Associated Press, 24 drillers have volunteered to post fracking fluid data on FracFocus.org for U.S. oil and natural gas wells completed on or after January 1. The information contained on the registry will be drawn from Material Safety Data Sheets, and does not include anything considered proprietary or trade secret information. The searchable site allows visitors to look up the chemicals used on wells in their area, and it provides other information about the fracking process.
But critics say the registry doesn’t provide enough information on what types of toxins drillers might be injecting into the ground. According to one Pennsylvania media outlet, thedailyreview.com, the state’s senior U.S. Senator, Democrat Robert Casey, is among those less than impressed with FracFocus.org. While he admitted the registry is “progress,” Casey expressed concern that it was voluntary and laced oversight.
According to thedailyreview.com, Casey recently reintroduced the FRAC Act in the U.S. Senate. As we’ve reported previously, the FRAC Act would not only require disclosure of fracking fluid chemicals, but would also end the exemption to the Safe Drinking Water Act. This is the third time the FRAC Act has been introduced in Congress, having been defeated on previous occasions due to heavy industry lobbying.
Other critics of Fracfocus.org say disclosure is just the first step toward regulating a practice that they fear is polluting groundwater.
â€œOur concern is that just focusing on disclosure allows the real issue of requiring prevention of contamination or harm to slip through the cracks and be ignored,â€ Jill Morrison of the Wyoming group Powder River Basin Resource Council, recently told the Billings Gazette. â€œIf we focus our attention solely on disclosure, we are diverted from the real issue of protection from contamination.â€
Calls for mandatory fracking disclosure have led to regulatory reform in some states. As weâ€™ve reported previously, Wyoming has started requiring drillers to list the name and concentration of each of the chemicals used in each well drilled there. Arkansas imposed disclosure regulations in January; while in February, Pennsylvania began requiring drillers to disclose information on Materials Safety Data Sheets. In Texas, the state legislature is also considering mandatory disclosure requirements that have gained the support of both industry and environmental groups.
On the federal level, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has raised the prospect of requiring chemical disclosure from drillers on federal lands.