Journalism in the Public Interest

Federal Rules to Disclose Fracking Chemicals Could Come with Exceptions

New proposed federal regulations would require drillers to disclose the names and concentrations of the chemicals they use, but would allow exemptions for substances deemed trade secrets.


A Cabot Oil and Gas natural gas drill stands at a hydraulic fracturing site on Jan. 18, 2012, in Springville, Pa. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Last week several media outlets obtained the federal Bureau of Land Management's draft of proposed rules requiring fracking companies to disclose the chemicals they pump into the ground. Such disclosure requirements have been championed by environmentalists for years and were endorsed by President Obama in the State of the Union, but critics say the rules may not go far enough.

In the process of fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, millions of gallons of highly pressurized water, mixed with sand and other chemicals, are injected into the ground to extract natural gas from rock. As we've noted before, some of these chemicals are toxic to humans and have contaminated nearby groundwater. Some energy companies have voluntarily made their chemical information public, but others have fought to keep them secret.

InsideClimate notes that the proposed national rules would specifically require companies to give both the names and concentrations of individual chemicals used. So far, Colorado is the only state that requires such detailed information for all chemicals; eight other states with fracking disclosure rules either do not require companies to report concentrations or only require them to report concentrations of hazardous materials. The BLM's rules also would compel companies to report the total volume of fracking fluid used, as well as how they intend to recover and dispose of it.

Though the BLM's proposed rules are more stringent than most state laws, environmental and health advocates say drillers could circumvent some of the requirements. For instance, the rules would only apply to drilling on federal lands. Also, companies could request that certain chemicals be exempted from disclosure if they are deemed a "trade secret." The trade secret exemptions "could potentially make the rules meaningless if applied broadly," Dusty Horwitt, senior counsel at a public health advocacy group told InsideClimate.

While the BLM's proposal states that all the non-exempted information would "become a matter of public record," it makes no mention of how or where the disclosure information would appear -- or how it would be made available to the public.

To compare the BLM's draft rules with state disclosure provisions, take a look at the table here (which we've recreated from a chart by InsideClimate). You can also read the full draft legislation here.

First of all, it’s the biggest load of horse manure on the planted that gas drillers aren’t required to disclose what’s in their fracking solutions. The EPA and OSHA, both at the state and federal level, REQUIRE all companies (that includes the O&G sector) to file Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for every chemical used on site. What they don’t require them to do is give concentrations of these chemicals

As we’ve noted before, some of these chemicals are toxic to humans

Its like saying salt and caffeine are toxic to humans. The concentration of these chemicals used in the fracking solution, in most cases falls well below the threshold limit values for them and for those that don’t dilution effects would bring them well below harmful levels.

Unless, of course, you believe discredited nutjobs like Theo Colburn … but that does make for a better story I suppose.

and have contaminated nearby groundwater

Interesting, I didn’t notice the article explaining how the EPA backed off its preliminary conclusion in the Pavillion Wyoming case … wonder why that is?

Of course, this the practice that prevails now.

So, what’s the deal?

PR value only?

Sort of like a private, for-profit insurance company subsidy called “universal health care”; like an “exposure” that’s not an “exposure.


Is this proposal open to public comment?

Nancy McGovern

Feb. 16, 2012, 8:41 p.m.

“Exceptions” mean - loopholes. I don’t trust any of them. Smoke and mirrors. Amen.

The companies’ purpose is to make money without concern for what they leave behind.  That has always been true and there is plenty of history to prove.

If we want clean water we will have to fight for it.  Sadly, congress isn’t capable of protecting anyone from anything.

Mike Its odd that you say that because here in PA the local gas co says they don’t have to disclose what they use to frack with because it is a protected trade secret.

I don’t argue this because I’m an environut, personally I like having gas heat and I’m all for responsible extraction of natural wealth

But wrong is wrong and your wrong.

Nancy, you’re absolutely right:  Why have a rule when anybody can circumvent it?

Watch:  I and my competitors must disclose something unless it’s a trade secret.  If I didn’t need to disclose something, it would give me a competitive advantage.  Thus, my information is a trade secret, which divulging would lose my competitive advantage.

They’ll play Mike’s game.  They’ll give some information (“it’s mostly water, and some salt”), but the rest will be secret.  And “it doesn’t matter,” anyway, because it’s such low concentrations that nobody would care…we funded a study that was inconclusive, after all.

Never mind that, if it’s harmless, there’s no reason to hide it, right?  That’s what the pro-government types are always telling me, if I have nothing to hide, then I shouldn’t mind my every move being recorded.

That said, regarding the article, I’m uncomfortable that it characterizes the argument as “some critics say it may not go far enough,” but it’s asserted that fracking chemicals leak into drinking water as a fact.

I happen to believe the latter is likely (like Eron, I think the extraction would be fine if it was responsibly done, so I’m not arguing that companies are evil and should be harassed for the sake of it; accountability is the only way to ensure responsibility), but don’t see anybody tracing the dispersal paths, whereas the bill CLEARLY doesn’t go far enough by undermining its one rule.

I’m pleased that they will be revealing the list of chemicals they are using in this process, with the exception of anything deemed a “trade secret”, that makes me feel all warm and safe. With the amount of money being raked in by them, and the amount going back out to political candidates, we have nothing to worry about. Move along folks, nothing to see here.

You don’t live next to one. We do, and we just had DEQ back out here today due to nausea,and vomiting from the TOXIC air it produces while they pump this in the ground. The DEQ cannot even do anything about it. We need to WAKE-UP.

Yeppers, a whole lot of nothing here. And remember the toxic chemicals they pump down during fracking are only part of the problem. The rest of the story is the petroleum byproducts and polluted formation water that finds its way into water bearing formations and contaminates them.

All this when natural gas prices are at their lowest point since the 1950’s.

Honestly, I think the earth has had enough of us.  I’m hoping for some major event that forces everyone to open their eyes and realize that we are killing the only home we have.

Strontium barium etc..

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:

Fracking: Gas Drilling’s Environmental Threat

The promise of abundant natural gas is colliding with fears about water contamination.

The Story So Far

The country’s push to find clean domestic energy has zeroed in on natural gas, but cases of water contamination have raised serious questions about the primary drilling method being used. Vast deposits of natural gas, large enough to supply the country for decades, have brought a drilling boom stretching across 31 states. The drilling technique being used, called hydraulic fracturing, shoots water, sand and toxic chemicals into the ground to break up rock and release the gas.

More »

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