The federal government's plan to require the disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" for well stimulation on public lands has been critiqued as a fairly industry-friendly policy, mainly because it includes exemptions for trade secrets and requires natural gas firms to issue disclosure reports after fracking occurs rather than before.
Environmentalists said the measure includes too many loopholes and won't go far enough in arming the public with more information about oil and gas activities in their communities.
But the industry representatives said any such federal policy is unnecessary--regardless of how lenient it is--because state governments already regulate fracking on state, federal and private land within their borders.
The federal Bureau of Land Management rule was proposed earlier this month and has been opened for a twomonth public comment period before a final rule is issued. The proposal would require public disclosure of fracking components along with environmental standards for wellbore integrity and wastewater (NGW May7'12).
Amy Mall, policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council, criticized the BLM's decision not to require disclosure before wells are drilled.
The BLM proposal would require disclosure to take place after a frack job has been completed, in response to the industry's argument that advanced notification would interrupt the flexible decision-making process as producers and contractors strategically target natural gas for extraction(NGW Feb.13'12).
"This information is important for communities to have beforehand so they know what chemicals will be stored and transported nearby, and have advance warning to test their drinking water for the right chemicals," Mall said in an analysis. "They shouldn't have to wait for this information."
Mall also slammed the BLM's decision to allow trade secret exemptions for the formulas used in fracking, which was offered in response to industry concerns that this could violate the proprietary information in the highly-competitive oil field services sector (NGW Sep.5'11).
"There is no clearly defined method for physicians, other health professionals or first responders to gain access to these trade secrets if needed to treat a patient or in an emergency," she said.
In states that require disclosure, notably Wyoming, contractors have been able to submit their formulas to regulators but have secured exemptions so that the exact formulas aren't made public.
Companies that submit information to the voluntary website www.fracfocus.org have listed the components but not the formulas, but the website is very detailed otherwise because its participants detail the components used at different wells and the locations of those activities.
Kathleen Sgamma, vice president of government affairs for the Western Energy Alliance, lamented the federal government's decision to get involved at all in fracking regulation.
"Operators are already required to obtain state permits for all wells on federal lands, and must comply with all state regulations related to well construction and integrity," she said. Kevin Book, a policy analyst with Clearview Energy Partners in Washington, said the BLM rule may not be the end of the federal government's reach.
"Although the rule would apply to only around 13.4 percent of US natural gas production and around 5.7 percent of onshore US crude oil production, a second-term Obama administration could pursue similar regulatory objectives to govern all fracking operations, including those occurring on private lands," he said.
He said the administration could conceivably justify new regulations using statutory authority under the Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, Toxic Substances Control Act, Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act, the Clean Air Act and others.
Lauren O'Neil, Washington