U.S. Proposes Delayed Disclosure of Fracking Chemicals

WASHINGTON, DC, May 5, 2012 (ENS) – A federal government proposal requiring oil and gas companies to disclose the chemicals they use in hydraulic fracturing only after the completion of fracking operations is running into opposition from environmental groups.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves the high pressure injection of chemicals, sand and water into shale rock thousands of feet deep, fracturing it to release hydrocarbons trapped in tight spaces.

The Bureau of Land Management Friday issued a proposed rule that would, for the first time, require companies to publicly disclose the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing operations on 700 million subsurface acres of federal public lands and and 56 million subsurface acres Indian lands – but not before the chemicals are pumped deep underground.

Sign in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania, April 1, 2012 (Photo by majneni)

The current fracking-enabled gas drilling boom across the United States has brought reports of poisoned drinking water, polluted air, mysterious animal deaths, and sick families. But industry secrecy has made it difficult for researchers to get the facts on health and environmental impacts of fracking.

Currently, there is no specific requirement for operators to disclose these chemicals on federal and Indian lands, where 90 percent of the wells drilled use hydraulic fracturing to greatly increase the volume of oil and gas available for production.

Now, the BLM proposes three new practices to protect public health, drinking water, and the environment. First, the agency proposes to require the public disclosure of chemicals used in fracking operations on federal and Indian lands after fracturing operations have been completed.

Second, the BLM proposes to require confirmation that wells used in fracturing operations meet appropriate construction standards. The agency says this would improve assurances of well-bore integrity to verify that fluids used in wells during fracturing operations are not escaping.

And third, the agency proposes to confirm that oil and gas operators have a water management plan in place for handling fracturing fluids that flow back to the surface.

Natural gas fracking operation near Pinedale, Wyoming, 2009 (Photo by Tim Minelli)

“As the President has made clear, this administration’s energy strategy is an all-out effort to boost American production of every available source of energy,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, announcing the proposed rule late Friday.

“As we continue to offer millions of acres of America’s public lands for oil and gas development, it is critical that the public have full confidence that the right safety and environmental protections are in place,” said Salazar. “The proposed rule will modernize our management of well stimulation activities – including hydraulic fracturing – to make sure that fracturing operations conducted on public and Indian lands follow common sense industry best practices.”

Over the past few years, several states, including Colorado, Wyoming, Arkansas, and Texas, have revised their regulations governing hydraulic fracturing.

In September 2010, Wyoming became the first state to require full disclosure of fracking chemicals, which was set forth in a rule approved by the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. Two states have followed Wyoming’s lead.

Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality issued a rule requiring lists of chemical additives, including the volumes used, to be submitted to the Department of Environmental Quality. Most recently, Texas enacted a law that requires public disclosure of fracking fluid chemicals.

Bills requiring public disclosure of fracking chemicals are pending in California, Illinois, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. Click here for more about state regulations.

Near a Pennsylvania gas field the head blew off this family’s well in March; water mixed with methane exploded out. Now, the well is vented and the family gets water from a tank in the padlocked box shown. The water tank is refilled daily but the family has no key. (Photo by majneni)

A range of opinions has greeted the proposed rules; industry groups say they go too far, while environmental groups say they should be more protective.

The National Association of Manufacturers says the states are already regulating in their jurisdictions and objects to any federal regulation.

NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons said, “The states are already effectively regulating hydraulic fracturing. New federal rules will be confusing and duplicative and will add unnecessary regulatory burden for energy producers.”

“It’s time the Administration’s actions reflect its rhetoric so that we can begin to include shale development as an essential part of a real all-of-the-above energy strategy,” said Timmons. “We urge the Department of Interior to carefully reconsider these proposed regulations and the impact on such a vital industry.”

Some in the oil and gas industry are content with the proposed regulations.

Chris Faulkner CEO of Breitling Oil and Gas, said, “Fracking regulations such as this, which demand complete transparency with regards to what chemicals are used and the methods by which fracking is achieved, have been a long time coming. Those of us in the industry who have upheld high standards and maintained clean track records will collectively breathe a sigh of relief today, as after 40 years of fracking in the U.S., there is now an industry standard.”

“Thanks to fracking, the U.S. may well be energy self-sufficient with a decade. It is on track to be a net exporter of petroleum products and crude oil for the first time in 62 years,” Faulkner said. “By 2020 the U.S. will surpass Russia and become the largest producer of hydrocarbons in the world.”

Environmental groups say the BLM should require that oil and gas operators disclose the chemicals in their fracking fluids, before, not after, they are injected into the ground.

Natural gas drilling rig in Tarrant County, Texas on the Barnett Shale Formation, January 2012 (Photo by Lynne Jacobs)

Jessica Ennis, legislative representative with the nonprofit, public interest law firm Earthjustice, said, “The oil and gas industry needs to disclose the chemicals they’ll be using in fracking before they are pumped into the ground. This information is essential so communities can test drinking water before fracking occurs and monitor the safety of water supplies in real time. If there’s a problem with their water, families deserve to know immediately – not after they’ve been drinking it for years.

Amy Mall, senior policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said, “Oil and gas operations are expanding rapidly with new technologies and into new areas, including closer and closer to where families live and children go to school, but federal safeguards have not caught up.”

“Industry does not inspire confidence when it balks at the notion of sharing chemical ingredients upfront,” said Mall. “Communities shouldn’t have to wait for that information till after the deed is done.”

Bruce Baizel of the Earthworks’ Oil and Gas Accountability Project, said, “We need a final rule that encourages reuse or recycling of the produced waters. Allowing operators to simply dump toxics in to pits is unacceptable.”

“We also have real concerns that disclosure only occurs after fracturing begins,” said Baizel. “This precludes the opportunity for baseline water testing to determine whether contamination has occurred.”

Once the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register, a 60-day public comment period will begin, during which the public, governments, industry and other stakeholders are encouraged to provide their input.

Diesel in Fracking Fluid

On a separate but fracking-related issue, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Friday released draft underground injection control program permitting guidance for class II wells that use diesel fuels during hydraulic fracturing activities.

EPA developed the draft guidance to clarify how companies can comply with a law passed by Congress in 2005, which exempted hydraulic fracturing operations from the requirement to obtain a underground injection control permit, except in cases where diesel fuel is used as a fracturing fluid.

Poster campaign against diesel in fracking fluid (Image by David Pohl / Your Place at the Banquet)

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 exempted hydraulic fracturing from the Safe Drinking Water Act in the Halliburton Loophole, except when diesel is used.

Recent Congressional investigations revealed diesel use in fracking fluids remains widespread.

Several national environmental groups called on the EPA to ban the use of diesel in fracking fluids, instead of issuing guidance regulating the practice.

These groups warn that diesel when injected underground poses serious risks to drinking water sources. They say EPA guidance is not enough to protect families from benzene and other highly toxic chemicals contaminating underground drinking water sources.

“It’s no secret that diesel is dirty and dangerous, and belongs nowhere near our drinking water. But the natural gas industry has been using this dangerous fuel for fracking, showing once again that they cannot be trusted to police themselves,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. “We urge the EPA to ban diesel fracking and keep Americans’ drinking water clean and safe.”

“Nobody wants to drink diesel-infused tap water,” said Ennis with Earthjustice. “That’s why the oil and gas industry needs to stop pumping diesel underground during fracking. The risk to drinking water sources is too high and the oil and gas industry’s track record is too dismal. The EPA can and must ban this reckless practice.”

President of Clean Water Action Bob Wendelgass said his group is urging the agency “to ban diesel use and to do whatever is necessary to protect precious underground drinking water sources from chemical contamination.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2012. All rights reserved.