Under legislation considered at the Capitol this week, hydraulic fracturing companies in Texas could soon be mailing a list of “fracking” fluid ingredients to residents near oil and gas wells.
House Bill 448, authored by Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, would require drilling companies to mail a list of the ingredients they plan to use in the fracking fluid to residents living within 500 feet of the proposed well.
Late Wednesday, the House Committee on Energy Resources heard testimony from environmental activists in support of the bill and industry representatives against it.
Mari Ruckel from the Texas Oil and Gas Association said the industry does not take issue with the bill in its entirety, but rather the window of time they would be required to notify residents of the fracking fluid chemicals.
“A lot of time operators don’t know what the situation is ahead of time,” she says. “We don’t know what water source is going to be used or what chemicals. They have it post-frack, and that’s why it is required at the Railroad Commission after the frack.”
“Fracking” is the common term for hydraulic fracturing, where millions of gallons of fluid is sent deep underground to break up oil and gas formations.
Often, around 95 percent of fracking fluid is simply water and sand. The rest is a mix of chemicals, some of which are toxic. For instance, a Dallas Morning News investigation last year found that one well in the region likely had 55,000 pounds of chemicals used in the fracking process.
Drillers in Texas are now required to disclose what those chemicals are on the website FracFocus.org. However, the rules allow exemptions for what companies deem “trade secrets,” chemicals they consider proprietary. This has been criticized as a loophole. An analysis by the Environmental Defense Fund late last year found that the disclosure system had “bugs” and “problems are emerging.” 29 percent of the chemicals used by drillers weren’t disclosed under the “trade secret” claim.
Operators also can tweak what is in the fluid they are using in their fracking operation as they are fracking. This means the the exact composition of the chemicals in the fluid may change moment to moment.
Under the bill to disclose fracking fluid contents to residents near wells, the “trade secret” exemption remains, but residents can appeal those exemptions to the Texas Attorney General. That caused controversy in the hearing. Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, introduced the bill to the hearing in place of Rep. Dukes.
“I’m not entirely happy with the trade secrets clause, because I think it’s a big enough loophole to drive a Mack truck through,” Burnam says.
Teddy Carter, the Vice President of Government Affairs for the Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners Association (TIPRO), disagreed with Rep. Burnam.
“What some refer to as the ‘trade secret loophole,’ that is current law for regulating any trade secret — whether it be oil and gas or a soda.”
“It’s a good bill, but perhaps it needs an amendment,” Rep. James “Jim” Keffer, R-Eastland, the Committee Chairman, said after testimonies ended.
The bill was left pending in committee.
David Barer and Olivia Gordon are reporting interns with StateImpact Texas.