Energy. Environment. Economy.

Feds consider rules for fracking chemical disclosure

Workers at a hydraulic fracturing site in Susquehanna County.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Workers at a hydraulic fracturing site in Susquehanna County.

The federal government is considering whether it should require companies to disclose the chemicals involved in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

The Environmental Protection Agency announced Friday that it is seeking public comments, a pre-curser to the more formal rule-making process. However, there is no guarantee that the EPA will draft regulations.

In the meantime, here’s what the agency says it wants to hear from the public:

  • What information about chemicals involved in hydraulic fracturing should be reported.
  • How that information should be reported, whether through regulation or on a voluntary basis or some combination of both
  • What might incentivize companies to disclose chemical information or develop safer formulas
  • How to minimize the costs and burdens of these reporting requirements and avoid duplicating efforts by states and other agencies

Currently, regulations for fracking, including chemical disclosures, are left to the states. In Pennsylvania, companies are required to post that information to the industry-sponsored website, which has become a national clearinghouse for chemical information related to fracking. The state makes exemptions for chemicals deemed proprietary, or “trade secrets.”

A spokesman for the industry trade group, the Marcellus Shale Coalition said Pennsylvania’s disclosure regulations could be held up as a model.

“We look forward to assisting EPA as this process advances and showcasing Pennsylvania’s strong regulatory framework and the best practices that our members adhere to across their operations,” he said in a statement.

However, many environmental groups are skeptical of regulations that allow for trade secret exemptions, which they say only fuels the public’s distrust of the industry.

Recently, major oilfield services company Baker Hughes announced it was phasing out trade secrets in favor of full disclosure.

“If one company can disclose all the chemicals that it’s using, then all the companies can do it,” said Amy Mall, a senior policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The EPA is moving forward under the Toxic Substances Control Act, which Mall says already permits exemptions for proprietary chemicals.

Mall praised today’s move by the EPA as a first step toward a national standard for disclosure.

“It doesn’t make fracking safe, but what it does do is give the public and local officials and first responders and hospitals the information that’s needed in case something goes wrong,” Mall said, noting it also helps with baseline testing for air and water quality before the drilling process begins.

The comment period will last for 90 days. You can read more about the EPA’s request for public comment, including how to submit a comment, here. 


  • brown7228

    But the fracking boom has also led to plenty of environmental concerns. Local communities are worried that the chemicals used to pry open the shale rock can contaminate nearby drinking water supplies. (So far, there’s scant evidence this is happening in places like Pennsylvania, but the science is still in its infancy.) Excess gas is often vented off, producing air pollution. And the disposal of fracking waste water underground appears to be linked to earthquakes in places like Ohio. If waste water is linked to earthquakes can you tell me why GasFrac a company that doesn’t use water is not successful? The company completely side-steps the water issue altogether by using a proprietary process involving a gelled liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) instead of water.

  • Victoria Switzer

    From one of my first exposures to DEP’s handling of the Marcellus Rush: DEP told the room full of concerned and curious citizens of Susquehanna Co. after a woman shyly asked about the chemicals- he-the DEP guy-chuckled and said, “you use dish detergent, don’t cha?”… Fast forward to today’s channel 16 commercials..water and sand is all they use-right? Seems there has been some progress from that 2008 meeting to 2014. Chemicals don’t even get a passing mention!!! Water and sand, same stuff you’d let your kid play with?

  • Patrick Henderson

    In Pennsylvania, there are actually two requirements with respect to hydraulic fracturing disclosure. Operators must post information to (which is actually a collaboration between the Ground Water Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission) AND they must disclose information to the PA Department of Environmental Protection in the well completion reports that are filed with the state. All information – including proprietary trade secret data – is disclosed to the state. Pennsylvania’s regulations are indeed a model for the nation and reflective of the commitment to transparency and emphasis on environmental protection under Governor Corbett’s Administration.

    Patrick Henderson, Energy Executive
    Office of the Governor

  • Victoria Switzer

    a model? Gas wells are going up in backyards, frontyards and schoolyards! Protection would involve setbacks that would reflect the true nature of the danger of an exploding and or burning gaswell. Let us use the horror of the Chevron gas well fire as our instruction sheet- we have homes closer to gas wells than DEP could observe the fire from! Let us not forget that the gas company did not allow DEP on site. Now that is what I call model protection!

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