The release of a national online registry of hydraulic fracturing chemicals this week has received qualified praise but has not stemmed calls for more disclosure about the natural gas extraction process.
Fracfocus.org went live on Monday with 24 participating companies, including many natural gas operators active in Pennsylvania. The voluntary registry was developed by the Ground Water Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission and includes information on toxic chemicals gathered from materials safety sheets. It does not include proprietary or trade secret information.
As of Wednesday, the chemicals used to fracture 30 wells in Pennsylvania had been posted online by three companies: Chesapeake Energy, Seneca Resources and EQT Production.
Kathryn Klaber, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry group, said in a statement that the new site “is a critical tool, and represents a positive step toward further heightening transparency,” one of the organization’s goals.
“This online database should also bring closure to the question of what and how many additives are used in the fracturing process,” she said.
But critics say the voluntary registry does not answer those questions.
Lesser-known chemicals are often not included on the materials safety sheets, whether or not they are toxic, and so will not be included in the registry.
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, who testified Tuesday about the risks and benefits of natural gas drilling during a Senate committee hearing, said in an interview that the new registry “is voluntary and there’s no oversight. Those are two basic problems there.”
“This isn’t enough, but any progress is welcome,” he said.
Mr. Casey recently reintroduced the FRAC Act, a bill that would require chemical disclosure from all drilling companies, including a provision that companies release proprietary information to health professionals if it is needed for treatment. The FRAC Act would similarly create an online registry of chemicals on a well-by-well basis, but it would also require drillers to disclose what they plan to use before they fracture a well, as well as a post-fracturing report.
“I think the legislation is consistent with what the people of our state expect and should have a right to expect: that we’re going to have not just full and fair disclosure, but also a regulatory structure which is consistent with the concerns we have about groundwater, drinking water, quality of life and the environment,” he said.
The hydraulic fracturing process, which the industry contends has never polluted drinking water, has been criticized because companies have been reluctant to reveal the exact composition of the chemicals they use – making it difficult to prove contamination is caused by gas drilling.
The national registry follows similar voluntary efforts by individual companies, including Range Resources, Chief Oil and Gas and Halliburton.
Pennsylvania began requiring disclosure of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing as part of a slate of regulations enacted in February. But, unlike Wyoming, which has adopted disclosure rules that mandate drillers reveal all the chemicals they use, Pennsylvania’s rules only require drillers to list the chemicals described on materials safety sheets.
The commonwealth has also not yet made the information available online.