The EPA Plays Catch-up on Fracking Chemical Disclosure Rules
Acting on a petition from a California-based environmental group, the Environmental Protection Agency recently announced that it will begin considering rules that would require companies to disclose the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing operations. Hydraulic fracturing, often referred to as fracking, is the relatively new technique that has revolutionized the natural gas drilling industry. The resulting surge in output of natural gas in North America has been a contributing factor in the dramatic fall of natural gas prices and electricity rates in recent years.
The EPA's move is not surprising given the groundswell of public anxiety in recent years over the use of fracking techniques. The procedure involves injecting a mixture of chemicals, water, and sand into shale rock to break up the rock and dislodge deposits of natural gas. Among the chief concerns with this technique is the potential impact on water supplies resulting from the improper handling of the chemical laden wastewater.
The EPA is actually not in the lead on this issue considering that the state of Texas in its last legislative session passed rules mandating the disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing operations. Specifically the bill calls for disclosure on a public website of the volumes and maximum concentrations of chemicals and additives regulated by the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) used in each well.
The topic of natural gas fracking has caused particular angst and mixed emotions among members of the Texas Chamber of Commerce Energy Association. Opinions on the topic vary widely. For many the significant drop in natural gas prices along with the corresponding drop in electricity rates has meant much-needed relief in an otherwise challenging economic environment. But at the same time no one wants to risk the safety of the water their family drinks.
The rules passed by the last Texas Legislature sought to strike the right balance between transparency for the concerned public and protection of the proprietary information of the drilling companies who have provided much need jobs to the state. Although hawks on either side will argue the rules don't go far enough or that they are too burdensome.