Regulators Call for the Disclosure of the Chemicals Used in Fracking Process

Have you noticed anything unusual about your energy bill lately? In contrast to everything else within the U.S. economy, prices in the energy sector are actually going down. The decrease in energy prices, particularly natural gas, is attributable to a single technological advancement in the oil and gas industry – hydraulic fracking.

Hydraulic fracking is a well stimulation technique that involves spraying a highly pressurized fluid into a deep rock formation, which in turn releases the natural gas or oil from the rock and allows it to flow into the well for retrieval. The pressurized fluid sprayed in the well is composed of water, sand, and various chemicals designed to lubricate and extend the life of the extraction process.

lake possibly affected by chemicals used in fracking
Campers set up near a lake while fracking operations occur in the background. There is growing concern regarding whether or not the lake is safe from contaminations.
Image source: Ostroff Law via wikimedia.org

Although some have argued that the economic benefit of fracking has muffled all critics of the process, the debate over the safety of fracking isn’t over yet. Recently, state regulators, concerned about groundwater contamination and other health effects potentially caused by the chemicals used in fracking have begun to implement chemical disclosure rules. The new regulations require oil and gas companies to disclose the specific chemical ingredients used in the fracking process.

The reasons why there is a growing demand for the transparency regarding the chemicals used in fracking include the following:

  • Drinking Water – Many of the areas where there is a large amount of fracking, like California and Texas, are currently in a severe drought. The situation has forced many communities to tap into groundwater for agricultural irrigation and even drinking water. However, there is some concern that the groundwater has been contaminated by the chemicals used in the fracking process and has rendered it unfit for human consumption.
  • Public Safety – Last June, a fire broke out at a Halliburton fracking site in Ohio. It took firefighters an entire week to put out the fire, which ultimately caused some 30 explosions and the release of tens of thousands gallons of chemicals into a local creek, killing an estimated 70,000 fish. The effort to protect the safety of nearby communities as well as contain the fire was hampered by the lack of specific knowledge regarding the types of chemicals that were stored at the site.
  • Environmental Impact – According to biologists, we are unsure of the environmental impact that fracking chemicals have on plants and wildlife. The growing concern in this area is particularly around spills and wastewater disposal, presuming that remnants of the chemicals may still be in the wastewater.

Of the thirty states where fracking now regularly occurs, only six currently require the disclosure of chemicals used. Most of the six only require the disclosure of chemicals to regulatory boards and not the general public (in order to protect the trade secrets associated with the chemical mix). However, as concern for the three issues discussed above continues to grow, oil and gas companies should expect more regulators to begin to take action. Notably, a recent law passed in Texas requires the public disclosure of all fracking chemicals used in the production of a fracking oil well.

Since more public and safety officials seem to be on a path leading to the required disclosure of chemicals, it would be wise for oil and gas companies to begin to take steps today that will reduce the cost of reporting when it is required. A simple way to track chemicals used in fracking is with a chemical management system.

The benefits of a chemical management system include the ability to digitize all of the associated safety information associated with a chemical. Once digital, the information can be easily manipulated into whatever format regulatory agencies require. In addition, barcode and tagging systems can facilitate the identification and tracking of specific chemicals stored at a site.

Even though energy prices have dropped, regulators are worried that we are not reducing expenses but rather shifting costs to address groundwater, public safety and the environment. Oil and gas companies that wish to work with regulators to ensure the continued growth of the oil and gas industry need to find simple ways to manage the information associated with the chemicals used in fracking, as well as the location of these chemicals.

Accelrys CISPro is designed to track information associated with the proper use and handling of chemicals in addition to the location of each chemical. For more information about this product, please visit our website today.

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