The Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission will vote next Wednesday on a proposed rule that would require natural gas companies working in the Fayetteville Shale to disclose the chemicals used in the drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing. There are currently no such requirements in the state, much to the chagrin of environmentalists and public health advocates who fear the chemicals could have a negative impact on the state’s water. The new rule would be a step in the right direction, but according to environmental groups like the Sierra Club, the language is vague and doesn’t go far enough to protect the public.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a drilling process in which anywhere from 1 million to 5 million gallons of water, mixed with sand and other chemicals, is injected into the ground at extremely high pressures to crack shale formations and release natural gas.
Industry officials maintain fracturing fluids are not harmful because they are about 98 percent water. But even if water and sand make up 99 percent of the fluid, and two million gallons are needed to finish a well, the remaining one percent would constitute 20,000 gallons of chemicals – like gelling agents, scale inhibitors, corrosion inhibitors, biocides, acids and friction reducers – being pumped into the ground.
Other states like Colorado and Pennsylvania have passed disclosure regulations requiring companies to list the specific names of the chemicals they use. No such requirement exists in Arkansas.
According to Larry Bengal, director of the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission, the proposed rule, labeled B-19, will be voted on at the commission’s monthly meeting next Wednesday. The language of the ruling has not yet been finalized, but the initial text requires companies to “report detailed information” including the types of additives used, the specific additive names and the concentration of each additive.
“We made some changes to the rule and they have to be voted on again at our hearing next week. If the amendments are accepted they would be made to the rule and the rule would be final,” Bengal says.
The initial proposed rule is better than nothing, says Craig Segall of the Sierra Club, but the language it contains is too vague.
“We’re seeing a shared pattern where they’re making what looks like a good-faith effort to improve matters, but they’re too vague and not protective enough,” he says. “So consistently Arkansas is falling below the standards that other states have set, which is a real problem. We’re hoping to engage the state regulators on this and say, look, there are real problems going on, not just in Arkansas, but all over the country with these practices. You should be looking at what the state of the art is. If you’re playing catch-up, catch all the way up.”
Chemical disclosure rules have always been met with opposition from the gas companies, which see the list of chemicals included in their fracturing fluids, which differ from company to company and even job to job, as proprietary information. They liken it to a special recipe for something like Coke.
Bengal says resolving this issue is problematic.
“You’re dealing with proprietary information. It’s not proprietary from the standpoint of what it is; it’s proprietary in the formulations that they sell. If we get it as an entity, and we know [what the chemicals are], then there’s federal trade protection law that keeps us from releasing it. So we’re trying to resolve that in a rule language that will hopefully satisfy everybody.”
But disclosure of the chemicals is just one piece of the puzzle, Segall says, and the ruling needs to go further. For example, to whom does the rule require these chemicals be disclosed? And when?
As initially proposed, the rule requires the “Permit Holder” to report detailed information to the AOGC “in the manner customarily reported or presented” after “completion of the Hydraulic Fracturing Treatment.”
“It’s great that Arkansas is even doing a disclosure rule,” Segall says. “But there’s some vagueness as to exactly what gets disclosed at what phase and who gets to see it. It’s not real clear from the rule that the public’s going to get their hands on it – or an emergency responder, if they’re treating a well worker. And that’s a big issue. You need to make sure that what’s being disclosed is not only useful, but that it’s going to the right people.”
Segall hopes the AOGC will take their comments and recommendations into account when finalizing the language of the rule.
“We sure would like to [hear from them],” he says. “I think they’ve got a big opportunity here and we would like to work with them on it.”
Bengal seems to be open to the idea.
“The rule is still in the process of being amended and we’re still looking at the Sierra Club comments right now,” Bengal says. “The amendments we’ve made deal with the methodology of disclosure and the completeness of disclosure.”
The monthly meeting of the AOGC will begin at 9 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 7, at the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, 2 Natural Resources Drive. Bengal says a vote on rule B-19 will likely take place on Wednesday.