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June 24, 2011

Why is the Fracking Fluid Disclosure Law Important?

Nat gas drilling rig - Bloomberg News How did the law happen, and what does it mean for the rest of the country?

Significant environmental damage from natural gas extraction is evident across the country, from air pollution in rural counties of Wyoming to wells contaminated in Texas, Colorado, and Pennsylvania.

Sierra Club is moving to enact policies that break our addiction to oil, move us toward a clean energy future, and hold oil and gas companies accountable. This past weekend, Texas certified a law to require natural gas drilling companies to disclose the chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process.  Hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" is a process used by the natural gas industry to remove gas from large shale rock deposits deep below the earth's surface. Natural gas drilling and the fracking process currently go unregulated by state and federal officials, despite the potential dangerous effect to our air, water, communities and landscapes with important wildlife and recreational value. 

This new law comes during intense debate over the safety and health implications of this drilling process and in a state that positioned itself as a leader in oil and gas drilling. How did this happen?

The bill originated in the state House by State Representative Jim Keffer of Eastland, TX. Upon passage, the bill moved to the state Senate with State Senator Troy Fraser as the sponsor. The bill passed both chambers and was signed into law on June 17.  

PA drill site2 It is important to note that this first step forward could not have been accomplished if it weren’t for the hard work and determination of the Sierra Club's Lone Star Chapter. Cyrus Reed, the Lone Star Chapter's Conservation Director, devoted tremendous time and energy lobbying for the inclusion of several amendments proposed by the Sierra Club. The chapter's hard work on this issue led the way for chapters across the country that are pushing for fracking fluid disclosure in their own states.

Although Texas is the first state to make fracking fluid disclosure a law, many states already have rules in place to require well and fracturing fluid chemical reporting. Currently, Colorado requires operators to maintain an inventory of chemicals exceeding 500 pounds in a quarterly reporting period. Maryland requires operators to include drilling additives used and a description of their toxicity in drilling applications. Pennsylvania requires operators to prepare a Preparedness, Prevention, and Contingency Plan that includes a list of the chemicals used. 

While this is a step in the right direction, there is still much more that should be required in each gas producing state. All chemicals used in fracking and well production, including volume and concentration,  should be reported to state regulatory agencies prior to their use, including proprietary "trade secrets."  This information should be posted online and available to the general public. Of course the most important part of the puzzle is how the states monitor and enforce the accuracy of reported data. More and more states are beginning to take action into their own hands as the U.S. Congress and the Environmental Protection Agency continue to drag their feet in closing the Halliburton Loophole and forcing disclosure of these dangerous chemicals.

Full public disclosure is essential for landowners, state regulators, emergency personnel and the general public to understand what is being pumped underground. We are tired of being kept in the dark about fracking, and we can't allow the gas industry to continue pushing our concerns aside. Congratulations to the Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter for keeping vigilant and fighting for key amendments to this bill. 

-Deb Nardone, Director of the Sierra Club Natural Gas Reform Campaign

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