Oil and gas drilling companies have made another move toward voluntary public disclosure of hydraulic-fracturing chemicals by uniting behind state regulators' efforts to create a national registry of the chemicals.
The registry is intended as a template for a state-based system of public disclosure. It comes amid increasing calls from lawmakers, environmental groups and other activists for the federal government to require disclosure.
"The work that our member companies have put into reaching a consensus to participate in this registry is testament to the commitment they have made to making these disclosures and earning the public trust," said Bruce Thompson, president of the American Exploration & Production Council (AXPC).
The Independent Petroleum Association of America and America's Natural Gas Alliance joined AXPC in endorsing the effort of the Ground Water Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission to develop a disclosure registry.
"The natural gas community is committed to the safe and responsible development of this clean energy resource," said ANGA President and CEO Regina Hopper. "That commitment means being responsive to the questions raised in communities where we work. It is our hope that with this greater transparency will come greater public confidence in the safety of the hydraulic fracturing process."
But environmentalists say the agreement on voluntary disclosure is no substitute for requiring every driller, including those who do not abide by trade association practices, to publicly disclose fracturing chemicals.
"We are glad there is finally general consensus in support of disclosing the chemicals, possibly quite toxic, being used near drinking water sources," said Amy Mall of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "As we have seen in Wyoming, companies did not protest a regulatory requirement for full and public disclosure. While voluntary disclosure is a nice concept, we think it is now clear that requiring disclosure is what the public wants and is something with which companies can easily comply."
The plan is for companies to disclose the information on a well-by-well basis. It is not clear how detailed it will be beyond that, such as whether volumes or Chemical Abstract Service numbers, which identify basic chemicals, will be used. The registry could serve as a guide and example for states that want to require disclosure of fracturing chemicals in their states.
The drilling industry has long argued that making public such detail would be giving out trade secrets about a perfectly safe process. But environmentalists maintain that fracturing and drilling can contaminate drinking water, so residents and regulators need to know what chemicals they are looking for.
Pressure on the industry has increased as drilling and fracturing have moved into new areas where residents are unfamiliar with petroleum production. Congress looked closely at requiring disclosure this year. A disclosure provision was attached to at least one major energy bill, which stalled for other reasons.
With Republicans taking over the House next year, such efforts are likely dead. But Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said this week his department is developing a new policy for the disclosure of chemicals on public lands E&ENews PM, Nov. 30. But Republicans in Congress have lambasted Salazar's plan.
Wyoming regulators have already begun requiring the disclosure of hydraulic fracturing chemicals on the state's Oil and Gas Conservation Commission website under a new rule passed this summer. Gov. Dave Freudenthal (D) directed the agency to draft the rules as a way to assure federal officials that his state adequately regulates fracturing.
Earlier this month, two companies asked Wyoming regulators for their fracturing chemicals to remain trade secrets, exempt from the new rules requiring public disclosure (Greenwire, Nov. 2).
Colorado, which overhauled its oil and gas laws in 2007, requires companies to maintain a well-by-well chemical inventory for the life of the well plus five years. Companies do not have to file the list with state regulators but are required to provide it when asked. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission can share the information with health officials, or a treating physician, subject to a confidentiality agreement. The inventory can be shared more broadly if the company does not request trade secret protection.
In Pennsylvania, where the battle over fracturing regulations is intense, the state Department of Environmental Protection requires material safety data sheets to be attached to every drilling plan, which is available to landowners, local governments and emergency responders.
Some companies have also been moving toward disclosure. Halliburton Co. announced last month that it will publicly disclose detailed information on its website about the chemicals used in its fracturing fluids (Greenwire, Nov. 11).