A Texas-based gas drilling company has decided to voluntarily disclose the chemicals it uses in hydraulic fracturing operations. According to The New York Times, the move by Range Resources Corp. comes as drillers attempt to head off possible federal regulations and deflect criticism of their industry.
Hydraulic fracturing, also called fracking, involves injecting water, sand, and a cocktail of chemicals at high pressure into rock formations thousands of feet below the surface. Critics of fracking have long been concerned about the chemicals used in the process. Because the federal Energy Policy Act of 2005 exempted hydraulic fracturing from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act, shale gas drillers donâ€™t have to disclose what chemicals they use.
According to the Environmental Working Group, fracking has already been linked to drinking water contamination and property damage in Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wyoming. The Environmental Protection Agency is now studying the process. States, not the federal government, are largely responsible for regulating hydraulic gas drilling, but many want to see that change.
According to The New York Times, Range is proposing to disclose the amount of additives used at each well site, along with their classifications, volumes, dilution factors, and specific and common purposes. Some of that information falls under what other companies consider proprietary trade secrets.
According to a Philadelphia Inquirer report, Range pioneered the use of fracking in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale region, and has more wells there than any other company.
While many environmentalists praised Range’s voluntary disclosure, they said new federal laws were needed to force a uniform disclosure.
“If Range Resources is planning to disclose the chemicals it uses in its drilling operations, there is no reason other companies can’t do the same,” Elizabeth Maclin, Trout Unlimited’s Vice President for Eastern Conservation, told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “With thousands of wells being drilled throughout Pennsylvania, knowing what is in fracking fluids is an important step toward protecting the state’s natural resources.”
According to The New York Times, other drillers are considering similar disclosures. They include Chesapeake Energy Corp., which says it is considering disclosing chemicals used in fracking on a well-by-well basis as Range is planning.
The industry’s main trade group, the American Petroleum Institute (API), is finalizing a proposal for disclosure, The Times said. But it falls short of what environmentalists want, and requires less disclosure than what Range is doing. API supports rules like those on the books in Colorado, which requires disclosure to regulators and physicians in emergency situations, but doesn’t provide the information to the public. It also opposes federal regulation of fracking.
Of course, drillers point to the trend toward voluntary disclosure as evidence federal regulation of fracking is unnecessary. Environmentalists, however, see things differently.
“One company’s efforts at transparency don’t substitute for an industry-wide requirement that such substances be disclosed to the public,” Dave Alberswerth of the Wilderness Society, told The New York Times. “Congress and state legislatures should move forward with requirements that all companies engaged in hydraulic fracturing publicly disclose the chemicals used in this process.”