States Focus on Fracking Chemical Disclosure

Thursday, December 15, 2011 @ 04:12 PM gHale


Oil and natural gas drillers in Texas and Colorado must report the chemicals they use in hydraulic fracturing.

Colorado will require companies to disclose the concentrations of all chemicals in hydraulic fracturing and also ask drillers to make public some information about ingredients considered trade secrets.

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While in Texas, oil and natural gas drillers must report the chemicals they use in hydraulic fracturing effective Feb. 1.

The Texas Railroad Commission approved the new rule this week and said companies will also have to disclose the amount of water they use. Drillers will report all information to the public website FracFocus.org.

However, in Texas, if a chemical is a trade secret the company does not have to list it, unless the Texas attorney general or a court determines otherwise.

Meanwhile, Colorado’s new rules, also approved this week, take effect in April.

The guidelines are similar to those required by a first-in-the-nation law passed in Texas this year but go further by requiring disclosure of the concentrations of chemicals.

“That’s the big advancer here. We’re getting a full picture of what’s in that fracking fluid,” said Michael Freeman, an attorney for Earthjustice who worked with industry to write the rules.

Also, if Colorado drillers claim a trade secret, they would still have to disclose the ingredient’s chemical family. In emergencies, companies would have to tell health care workers what those secret ingredients were.

“It yielded a good rule for the state and a workable rule for the industry,” said Jep Seman, an attorney for the Colorado Petroleum Association.

Companies have been fracking for decades, but as drilling expands to more populated areas, residents near wells remain concerned about the effects on their health and drinking water. Texas, in passing its law this summer, noted fracking has worked safely in that state for 60 years.

Arkansas, Montana, Texas, and Wyoming all require companies to disclose the chemicals in fracking fluid but not their concentrations, said Matt Watson, senior energy policy manager for the Environmental Defense Fund. Louisiana and New Mexico only require disclosure of some chemicals deemed workplace hazards by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Other states, including Michigan and Pennsylvania, have proposed similar regulations.

Commission staff said a survey of Colorado disclosures on FracFocus.org shows a small percentage claim trade secrets, though the website includes only voluntary disclosures. Companies on the website say the fluid is mostly water mixed with sand and small percentages of petroleum chemicals and alcohols such as Isopropanol, an ingredient in rubbing alcohol, while some contain hydrochloric acid.

Freeman said some fracking fluids also might contain diesel fuel, benzene and other chemicals commonly found in gasoline. The database will be searchable by company, well location and type of chemical used.

The Environmental Protection Agency last week found a possible link between groundwater pollution and hydraulic fracturing beneath Pavillion, Wyo. The EPA found compounds likely associated with fracking chemicals in the groundwater beneath the small central Wyoming community where residents complain their well water smells like chemicals. Health officials last year advised residents not to drink their well water after the EPA found low levels of hydrocarbons.



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