Will Fracking Disclosure Decisions Put Profits Above Health?

October 8, 2014

Federal agencies are still grinding forward on decisions about disclosure of often-toxic ingredients pumped into the ground during "fracking" to produce gas and oil. Significant decisions may come eventually from the Interior Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Obama White House.

But don't bet on any courageous decisions until after the November election.

The Interior Department sent revised fracking rules for many public lands to the White House Office of Management and Budget for review on August 26, 2014. Disclosure requirements in those rules had already been weakened after industry protests over an initial draft.

On a second front that opened in May 2014, EPA is considering its own fracking disclosure program. Petrochemical industry groups such as the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA) have taken a dim view of that, claiming a threat to their "trade secrets."

It's no secret that gas drillers are injecting hydrochloric acid, methanol, ethylene glycol, petroleum distillates, and a bunch of other toxic chemicals under high pressure into underground formations. But Congress, which gets vast amounts of money from drilling companies, remains convinced that the public should not know about what chemicals could end up in their drinking water wells. A 2005 law exempts the fracking industry from certain Safe Drinking Water Act disclosure requirements.

But EPA has authority under several other laws to address fracking ingredient disclosure — such as the Toxic Substances Control Act or the industrial pretreatment provisions of the Clean Water Act. So far, EPA has remained noncommittal about whether any such disclosure program would be voluntary or regulatory.

Since virtually all ingredients in typical fracking fluid are already well-known and frequently disclosed, industry's argument that they amount to competitive trade secrets has worn embarrassingly thin.

The embarrassment can only be expected to increase now that Baker Hughes, an oilfield services company with a significant share of the fracking market, announced that as of October 1, it will disclose all the chemicals it uses for fracking.

SEJ Publication Types: