Energy Exchange

Mixed Bag Out Of Pennsylvania On Hydraulic Fracturing Chemical Disclosure

Last night the Pennsylvania (PA) General Assembly passed legislation on fracturing fluid chemical disclosure that, on the whole, isn’t half bad – particularly considering where they started.  Unfortunately, the bill contains a major flaw that prevents us from being able to hold it up as a model for other states to follow.  Still, there’s quite a bit to be liked.  More on that below.

I should also point out that the disclosure legislation was part of a much larger bill that addresses a broad range of issue related to shale gas development in PA.  The overall bill has been the target of quite a bit of criticism from local environmental groups – particularly for eliminating much of the discretion of local jurisdictions to manage and plan for oil and gas activities within their borders.  We didn’t work on those provisions, so I’ll leave it to those who did to offer up their assessments and, for now, just give a run-down on the disclosure piece.

As originally drafted, the disclosure provisions in this bill were, quite frankly, useless.  All they would have done is codify current rules at the PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).  Under those rules, companies only reveal the chemicals that have to get reported on material safety data sheets – which leaves out maybe half the chemicals used in fracturing fluids.  And there was no requirement for posting disclosures on an easily accessible website for the public to see.  That kind of regime comes nowhere close to what EDF calls “disclosure,” and it’s way behind the times in terms of where the national conversation is today.  So, EDF teamed up with the Pennsylvania Environmental Council to improve the draft.

The Good

The first thing to understand is that PA will require two kinds of reporting.  Operators will disclose chemical information on the well completion reports they turn in to the DEP after drilling, fracturing and beginning production on a well.  And then, certain operators will be required to also post their disclosures on Frac Focus, the disclosure website run by the Ground Water Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission.

As for the well completion reporting requirements, they’re quite good.  Operators will have to disclose all the chemicals they use, along with chemical concentrations.  They’ll also disclose the trade-name additives they use and the purposes they serve.  Taking it a step further than what other states have done, PA will also require operators to report their water sources and how much recycled wastewater they use in hydraulic fracturing treatments – an important step forward in disclosure requirements.

As with every other state disclosure rule, PA will allow operators to claim trade secret protections to keep certain chemical identities confidential.  These claims will be governed by PA’s “Right to Know” law, which means PA will be on the leading edge of how states are currently dealing with trade secrets in fracturing chemical disclosure rules.  Companies will be required to actually submit their trade secret information to the DEP (instead of completely withholding it, as some states allow).  Citizens will have broad standing to challenge trade secret claims at the PA Office of Open Records; and when there are challenges, the burden will be on the DEP and operators to prove why a trade secret claim is legitimate.  We’re aware that some in industry repeatedly tried to gut the Right to Know provisions in the bill, and credit is due to Governor Corbett’s office for fending off those attacks.

As we’ve mentioned before, we support the recommendation of the DOE Secretary of Energy Advisory Board that “the barrier to shield chemicals based on trade secrets should be set very high.”

Finally, the PA bill gives added emphasis to the need for making information available in formats that are useful and user friendly.  Mirroring the language that was pioneered in the Colorado rule, PA is now the second state to call for improving the search functions on Frac Focus.

The Bad (and Ugly)

Unfortunately, the bill took a major wrong turn on one key point.  While operators of all oil and gas wells will be required to disclose chemical information on their well completion reports, only operators of “unconventional” wells will be required to post their disclosures on Frac Focus.  The bill defines unconventional wells as those that are drilled and fractured below the Elk Sandstone formation in PA.  We’re not sure yet how many wells this will leave out, but it’s a fair guess it will be a lot.  So, we’re really only getting partial public disclosure here.

That’s a shame.  Public concern about fracturing chemicals doesn’t have anything to do with geologic stratigraphy.  Spills, bad casing and cementing jobs, loss of well control and failures in waste containment facilities can happen regardless of the depth of your target formation.  The potential pathways for contamination are there for all wells (and arguably, they’re even higher for shallower wells).  So, there’s no rational reason why all wells shouldn’t be required to post their disclosures on Frac Focus.

PA is the only state that’s made this bizarre differentiation between conventional and unconventional wells.  We’ll be looking to fix that problem in the future.  And in the meantime, we’ll be working overtime to make sure no other state repeats this mistake.

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Colorado Sets The Bar On Hydraulic Fracturing Chemical Disclosure

Big news out of Denver this morning

Source: WLF

After weeks of intense wrangling between industry and environmental representatives, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) adopted a hydraulic fracturing fluid chemical disclosure rule that, in many ways, serves as a model for the nation.

It’s been a learning process these last couple of years – as EDF has worked to get disclosure policies adopted in the states.  With their own disclosure rules, Wyoming, Arkansas, Texas and Montana have all made important contributions to the debate.  And in Colorado, we’re finally seeing things start to coalesce.

Colorado’s Rule 205A settles key questions about what kinds of information the public expects to see and how the information should be presented, including:

Requirements for Searchable Database

Picking up on a recommendation from the shale gas subcommittee of the U.S. Secretary of Energy Advisory Board (a panel on which EDF President Fred Krupp served), the Colorado rule requires chemical information to be made available on a website that allows people to search and sort data by company, chemical ingredient, geographic area and other criteria.

This is a big step that will allow land owners, neighbors, regulators and policymakers to focus and refine their questions and research about hydraulic fracturing.

We’re also fans of the fact that the rule requires operators to post their disclosures on Frac Focus, which must be made searchable by January 1, 2013.  If Frac Focus doesn’t have these upgrades in place by then (or isn’t clearly on a path to do so), the rule requires the COGCC to build its own searchable database.

The creators of Frac Focus – the Ground Water Protection Council (GWPC) and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC) – are already talking about searchability, and the Colorado rule provides a clear signal that the states want to see it happen and happen soon.

(The Texas disclosure rule, which was also adopted today, uses Frac Focus as the disclosure platform, but doesn’t require searchability.  In adopting the rule, the Texas Railroad Commission agreed that Frac Focus should be made searchable and said it would work with GWPC and IOGCC to make those upgrades).

Full Disclosure of Chemical Ingredients

Colorado also set a national standard by requiring disclosure of the identities and concentrations of all chemical ingredients, not just those that have been determined to be “hazardous” according to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations.  Other states have taken the step of requiring disclosure of the identities of all chemicals, but Colorado is the first to require disclosure of both chemical identities and concentrations for all chemicals.

As readers of our blog posts on fracturing fluid disclosure know, just because a chemical hasn’t been identified as “hazardous” under OSHA Hazard Communication rules, it doesn’t necessarily mean the chemical isn’t dangerous.  OSHA regulations require that chemicals be identified as hazardous when studies show they could be dangerous in a workplace setting.  These regulations don’t look at the question of whether a chemical might be dangerous if exposure occurs through an environmental pathway.  Moreover, a chemical might be dangerous in both a workplace setting and through environmental exposure – but if the studies haven’t been done yet, OSHA regulations don’t require you to list it as hazardous.

According to industry, at least half of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluids don’t fall under these OSHA Hazard Communication rules.  And toxicological data on many, if not most, of these chemicals is very thin.  So requiring full disclosure of hydraulic fracturing chemicals is a critical first step toward building up our understanding of the risks they may present.

The Colorado disclosure rule isn’t perfect, but it’s darn good.  And with the provisions for searchability and full chemical disclosure, it has set a national standard on two key issues.

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