The fight over disclosure of often-toxic ingredients added to fluids used to stimulate production of natural gas from horizontal wells opened a new round in Ohio last week. Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of shale formations has in many states been accompanied by complaints that it is contaminating drinking water wells. In the absence of effective federal rules to deal with the issue, states are adopting their own.
The Ohio legislature cleared a fracking bill late May 24, 2012, sending it to Gov. John Kasich (R), who says he will sign it. It was hard-fought along party lines in the GOP-dominated legislature. It increases inspections of wells and requires drillers to hold liability insurance. But Reuters reports: "Many Democrats said the bill paves the way for the industry to hide information about toxic chemicals that could contaminate groundwater."
Drillers are required to file with the state data about the ingredients used in fracking fluid, but only after completion of the well, and they may withhold data on ingredients they claim as trade secrets. The claims do not need to be substantiated. Landowners and citizens not knowing the ingredients ahead of time are handicapped. They would lack information needed to oppose the drilling permit — and the bill eliminates their right to appeal the permit-granting decision afterwards. They would not be able to establish via testing the pre-drilling baseline of well-water quality if they did not know what chemicals to test for. And their ability to sue for pollution damage afterward would be made moot by not knowing some fracking fluid ingredients. They could not know whether an ingredient had made them sick if they did not know what it was.
Moreover the bill includes a provision critics call a "gag order." It requires doctors treating people possibly made sick by fracking fluids to sign confidentiality agreements.
Ohio joins other states — Arkansas, Colorado, Montana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wyoming — in adopting fracking legislation that mandates some kind of disclosure of fluid ingredients, but in most cases there are significant limits on disclosure.
- "Ohio Could Bar Doctors from Telling Public About Drilling Chemicals," AP via First Amendment Center, May 23, 2012.
- "Ohio Fracking Bill of Little Use in Finding Out Which Chemicals Are Used," Columbus Dispatch/Marietta Times, May 26, 2012, by Spencer Hunt.
- "Ohio Legislature OKs Bill on Energy Fracking Rules," Reuters, May 25, 2012, by Jo Ingles.
- Text of Ohio SB 315 as passed by House and sent to Governor.
- "Ohio Fracking Bill Does Not Go Far Enough To Protect Human Health and the Environment," Switchboard blog, Natural Resources Defense Council, May 19, 2012, by Thom Cmar.
- "Green Column: Seeking Disclosure on Fracking," New York Times Green blog, May 30, 2012, by Kate Galbraith.
- "Energy Trade Secrets Prompt Ohio Statehouse Feud," Associated Press, May 23, 2012, by Julie Carr Smyth
- "Final Ohio Drilling Bill Dampens Kasich's Robust Chemical Disclosure Plans," EnergyWire, May 29, 2012, by Ellen M. Gilmer
- Previous Story: SEJ WatchDog of May 16, 2012.