Policy Documents

Research & Commentary: Hydraulic Fracturing Chemical Disclosure

November 22, 2011

In just a few short years, shale gas extraction using hydraulic fracturing has transformed the domestic energy landscape, providing billions of cubic feet per day to the nation’s energy supply and billions of dollars to the U.S. economy. As part of the hydraulic fracturing process, a mixture of water, sand, and chemicals is injected deep into the ground to force open cracks within the shale formation, thereby allowing the gas to be extracted. As the use of this technique has rapidly expanded, however, so has public concern about the chemicals used during the process.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, fracturing fluid is composed of about 99.5 percent water and sand, with the remaining 0.5 percent consisting of a mixture of chemicals engineered to improve the functionality of the well. Some chemicals are added to reduce the friction of the fluid to improve efficiency, and others are added to prevent pipe corrosion and bacteria growth. The exact chemical composition of the fluid differs in every well, as operators optimize the blend to address the specific needs dictated by local conditions.

Although many of the chemicals are found in everyday consumer products, industry groups initially resisted disclosing fracking fluid components for proprietary reasons. As questions have arisen, many in the industry have begun voluntarily disclosing this information.

One such location for voluntary disclosure is FracFocus.org, a chemical disclosure registry administered by the Groundwater Protection Council and the Interstate Oil & Gas Compact Commission. Since its launch in April 2011, FracFocus has been integrated into various states’ regulatory frameworks. In June, for example, the Texas legislature passed HB 3328, which requires well operators to disclose hydraulic fracturing chemicals using the FracFocus database. Colorado regulators are drafting similar regulations that would utilize the database.

Both the Texas and Colorado models include proprietary exemptions to secure industry trade secrets. This framework was endorsed by the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board Shale Gas Subcommittee convened by Energy Secretary Steven Chu. In its draft final report, released November 10, the subcommittee stated it “recognized the need for protection of legitimate trade secrets but believes that the bar for trade secret protection should be high.”

In practice, Wyoming—the first state to require full chemical disclosure—has limited the use of the proprietary exemption, concealing just 147 chemicals as of August 25. Thirty-seven percent of those chemicals were used as tracers to measure the extent of the fracture and thereby verify potential claims of water contamination.

The following documents and Web sites provide additional information about hydraulic fracturing chemical disclosure.

Research & Commentary: Hydraulic Fracturing (Fracking) of Natural Gas
Heartland Institute Senior Fellow James M. Taylor provides a primer on hydraulic fracturing, discussing the overstated environmental impact and providing a series of useful links to additional research on the topic.

FracFocus Chemical Disclosure Registry
FracFocus is a joint project of the Groundwater Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission designed to provide the public with information on chemicals used throughout the hydraulic fracturing process. Multiple states have begun to rely on the site as their public database for chemical disclosure.

Texas H.B. 3328 Legislative History: Relating to the Disclosure of the Composition of Hydraulic Fracturing Fluids Used in Hydraulic Fracturing Treatments
Texas was the first state to require using the FracFocus database in its regulations requiring the disclosure of chemicals used at each hydraulic fracturing well, which went into effect September 1.

Colorado Draft Statement of Basis and Purpose: Hydraulic Fracturing Chemical Disclosure
Regulators in Colorado are in the preliminary stages of enacting chemical disclosure regulations that would utilize the FracFocus site while providing protection for trade secrets. A rulemaking hearing will be held December 5.

What the Frack’s in the Ground? A State-By-State Look at Fracking Disclosure Regulations
NPR’s State Impact project tags several articles detailing fracking chemical disclosure regulation in states across the country. The most recent article details how members of the Marcellus Shale Coalition will begin voluntarily listing their chemicals starting January 1.

Natural Gas Subcommittee of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board
The U.S. Secretary of Energy Advisory Board Shale Gas Subcommittee’s first 90-day report states the panel “shares the prevailing view that the risk of fracturing fluid leakage into drinking water sources through fractures made in deep shale reservoirs is remote” and it “believes there is no economic or technical reason to prevent public disclosure of all chemicals in fracturing fluids, with an exception for genuinely proprietary information.” The Second 90-Day Report follows up on progress made by the states toward this goal and other desired objectives.

For further information on this subject, visit the Environment & Climate News Web site at http://news.heartland.org/energy-and-environment, The Heartland Institute’s Web site at http://www.heartland.org, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database, at www.policybot.org.

Nothing in this message is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. If you have any questions about this issue or the Heartland Web site, you may contact Heartland energy and environment legislative specialist John Monaghan at jmonaghan@heartland.org or 312/377-4000.