A number of states are following in Wyoming’s footsteps and creating rules requiring energy companies to disclose the contents of fluids used in hydraulic fracturing.
Last week regulators in Michigan and the Texas state Senate approved rules requiring disclosure, and Montana regulators proposed similar rules.
California is considering a bill that would require companies to disclose the information to a state supervisor who would then post it on a website.
Pennsylvania is considering legislation that would require disclosure to the state, but not necessarily the public. In Arkansas, a bill was presented and withdrawn.
The so-called “Frack Act” — which would make full disclosure federal law — was reintroduced to both the U.S. House and the Senate in March.
The rules and the legislation all require roughly the same thing: Energy companies that use hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to get oil and gas out of the ground must disclose some or all of the contents of the fluids pumped underground as part of the process, which some people fear pollutes water supplies.
Tom Doll, superintendent of the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, said the states are trying to both deal with pollution concerns and stave off federally mandated rules.
“There’s a lot of activity at the federal level, and of course the states are trying to get rules on the books,” he said. “It shows they’re being protective and requiring disclosure as well, so it’s really controlled at the state level where it should be instead of the federal level.”
In fracking, water, sand and chemical additives are pumped into the ground under pressure to crack open formations blocking the flow of oil and gas.
The practice, while not new, has seen increasing use because of improved technology and the realization that the process can open oil and gas fields that would otherwise be unprofitable. But environmental and conservation groups and others have expressed concern that the practice could pollute water supplies.
While one U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study indicated the practice wasn’t a threat to water, ongoing concern amid the public and Congress means the EPA will soon start a new and much more comprensive study of the practice and its effect on water supplies.
Wyoming, where there practice is widespread, was the first state in the country last year to institute rules regarding the disclosure of fluids used in fracking to both the state government and the public.
The state’s rules requires companies disclose the planned content of fracking fluids, and then come back to the state with the actual contents used at each well site. That information is made available to the public with exceptions to protect proprietary information.
The disclosure rules from the states vary.
Michigan regulators approved a strict set of rules requiring disclosure of fluid contents, additional data including fluid injection pressures, and computer modeling to ensure water drawn for use in fracking doesn’t affect nearby wells or surface water.
Montana’s proposed rules require only a one-time disclosure from companies, filed either with the state or on www.fracfocus.org.
That site, developed jointly by the Ground Water Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, is a national database for fracking fluid contents voluntarily disclosed by energy firms.
The Texas legislation only requires energy companies to post on a website the maximum concentrations of chemicals regulated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Unregulated chemicals only have to be listed without the amount used.
Environmentalists in Texas said they fear the bill is still too protective of industry.
“It’s a glass half full kind of thing, pretty good job, pretty good legislation, but we didn’t go far enough,” said Cyrus Reed, conservation director of the Sierra Club’s Lone Star chapter.
All three states’ rules would allow companies to not release some information if it was deemed a trade secret. That’s been a concern in Wyoming and in the states moving forward with their own rules.
“These are small steps forward but we feel they fall well short of what’s needed to provide adequate safeguards,” said Hugh McDiarmid, spokesman for the Michigan Environmental Council.