Obama Says Frackers Must Reveal Chemicals Used on Public Lands…but only after Drilling is Finished
Monday, May 07, 2012
In what critics are calling a classic case of shutting the barn door after the horse has bolted, the Obama administration has issued a proposed new rule requiring energy companies that engage in hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) on public land to reveal the toxic chemicals they inject into the ground…but only after drilling is completed, when the information has lost much of its value to the public.
In fracking, energy companies use powerful pumps to force a pressurized mix of water and chemicals into deep layers of rock like shale, causing fractures there, which allow the extraction of otherwise unavailable natural gas or oil. The good news is that the mix is about 99% water; the bad news is that the remaining 1% includes highly toxic chemicals harmful even in tiny amounts, including methanol, hydrofluoric acid, sulfuric acid and formaldehyde.
Originally, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which manages public land, proposed that frackers be required to disclose the chemicals 30 days before a well could be started, an idea that proved popular with landowners and communities concerned about pollution of groundwater.
The administration’s retreat followed a series of closed-door meetings at the White House in which oil and gas industry trade association lobbyists, as well as individual corporations like ExxonMobil, XTO Energy, Apache, Samson Resources and Anadarko Petroleum, complained to the Office of Management and Budget, which reworked the rule to address industry concerns. The industry feared the additional paperwork and potential loss of trade secrets, although it is unclear how merely delaying the release of the list of chemicals protects any secrets. Interior
Department officials claim that having a record of the injected chemicals at all would be an improvement, but a spokesperson for the environmental group Earthjustice called the rule “a free pass to the oil and gas industry at the expense of public health.”
The draft rule affects drilling operations on the 756 million acres of federal and Indian land administered by the BLM, where about 3,000 wells are drilled each year using fracking. The rule will not affect most fracking operations, which are conducted on private land and thus fall mainly under state regulation.
- Matt Bewig
To Learn More:
New Proposal on Fracking Gives Ground to Industry (by John M. Broder, New York Times)
Frack First, Disclose Chemicals Later Under U.S. Rule (by Katarzyna Klimasinska, Bloomberg)
Proposed Rule on Well Stimulation, Including Hydraulic Fracturing, on Federal and Indian Lands (Bureau of Land Management) (pdf)
What Chemicals are Used in Fracking? (by David Wallechinsky, AllGov)
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