Time for the industry to clean up its act?

What is the legitimate role of government in regulating chemicals used in hydro-fracturing natural gas wells? Hydro-fracturing is a key technology used in achieving productivity in shale gas wells, and has been in use for decades. Now these chemicals are coming under Congressional scrutiny as drilling ramps up in the Marcellus and other shale formations throughout North America.

The Bush administration sought and got an exemption for the natural gas industry from having to disclose these chemicals as would normally be required under the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974.

Natural gas companies have generally refused to disclose their specific recipes for the fracing fluid they use on the basis of it being their trade secrets. The companies are not required by law to disclose these chemicals.

Is it time now for the natural gas industry to come clean and start making specific disclosures of each company's recipe? Alternatively, if the competitive pressure is too strong to ever warrant full disclosure of these chemicals, are there remedies that can be applied to protect the companies' trade secrets, yet still protect the public interest from the unwarranted risk of water pollution? Protecting the watershed of big East Coast cities' drinking water such as New York City and Philadelphia is of particular concern, but no less so than for that of the thousands of individual water wells throughout the prospective regions that families depend upon for their supply of drinking water.

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Comment by Rita McConnell on June 3, 2009 at 9:48am
Tom -- I agree with you. I've been working on it myself person by person, but its a difficult row to hoe, so to speak. I'm not a scientist, but I'm finding that the amount of scientific literacy out there is even more limited than I thought, which makes discussion about geology somewhat difficult. Fear is a powerful motivator -- as is the public's distrust of the industry as a whole. I plan to keep plugging away on my side -- and I'm always happy to hear input an other thoughts on reaching people.
Comment by Tom Copley on June 1, 2009 at 7:05pm
I hear you, Rita, but unless the industry takes some practical initiatives to address the anxieties of the public over toxins in the drinking water, it still runs the risk of more such regulatory reactions. Tom
Comment by Rita McConnell on May 29, 2009 at 10:40am
In some states, like Pennsylvania, the chemicals used in fracturing are disclosed to the state environmental agency. The substances are reported by the agency in one inclusive list, so that its not known what any specific company is using, but what any one company could be using. Its a way for peope to know what could be in the water, but doesn't give away any specific company's recipe.
Also, its really important to remember that in most cases, about 99 percent of fracing water is water and sand (or proppant). So if you think about 1 percent of say 4 million gallons of water, you're not talking about much of any one chemical. I'm not aware of any company that uses any of its fracing chemicals in full solution, as reported on MSDS sheets. To some extent, this kind of disclosure depends on your point of view -- there are many places where you can learn about the types of chemical used in fracing, if not the specific combos in which companies use them -- in fact, the PA Marcellus Committee is preparing a fact sheet on this very topic that should be available soon.
Its important to remember that fracing fluid and flowback water are not the same thing. When people discuss their concerns about whats in fracing water, you often hear mention of things like benzene and heavy salts. Benzene, heavy salts and other minerals that often concern citizens are not in the fracing fluid mixture as pumped into the well (inside the cemented casing). They do however occur naturally in formations below our feet where organic material decays and decomposes over time. Sometimes, when fracing fluid is recalled through flowback, some of these elements will be present in waste water, beacuse of contact.
Fracing fluid mixtures are not the greatest concern about water and drilling -- its the disposal of flowback water after the completion occurs that poses the greatest challenge to the industry.

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