Texas Fracking Disclosure Bill Could Change Regulatory Landscape

A bill in Texas that would require the disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing could become a model for other states if it is adopted. According to a report in The New York Times, the bill, which was introduced this month by Republic State Representative Jim Keffer, has gained the support of environmental groups like the Sierra Club, as well as the energy industry.

Hydraulic fracturing or 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.

Texas, the leading gas producing state in the country, and has long been friendly to the industry. For that reason alone, Representative Keffer’s proposed fracking disclosure bill is noteworthy. According to The New York Times article, it would require creation of a Web site containing information about the chemicals used in each well where fracking is being used.

The bill has led to rare agreement between some environmentalists and the energy industry. An official with the Environmental Defense Fund was quoted in the Times article as saying the bill “would create the nation’s strongest disclosure system.” The Texas state committee chairman for America’s Natural Gas Alliance also voiced support for the bill, saying most companies in his group had reacted positively to the legislation.

As concerns over the environmental damage that could be caused by fracking have grown, environmentalists and other industry critics have ramped up calls that drillers be required to disclose the make-up of fracking fluids. As we’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. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania, which lies in the heart of the natural gas rich Marcellus shale, similar rules have been written, changed its disclosure rules last month. According to the Times article, the proposed Texas legislation is based on a rule that went into effect in Arkansas in January.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the House Energy and Commerce Committee both initiated investigations of fracking and sought such information from the industry. Meanwhile, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar raised the prospect of requiring chemical disclosure from drillers on federal lands.

In the U.S. Congress, a group of Senators reintroduced the FRAC Act earlier this month, which 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. According to the Times, the disclosure law proposed in Texas would actually be stronger than what is required by the FRAC Act.

According to the Times, the first hearings on the Texas fracking bill will likely be held next month. Despite widespread support among industry and environmentalists on the basic aims of the bill, there are still a couple of areas of contention that need to be hammered out. The industry, for example, is seeking clearer liability protection in cases where the company that manufactures fracking fluid makes an error in the information it provides to the driller. Environmentalists are concerned about a provision that would allow drillers to protect “trade secrets,” and also point out that the bill does nothing to address air pollution concerns.

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