Thursday, June 23, 2011

Will California Break the Fracking Veil of Secrecy?

With a little luck the world may soon discover just what natural gas frackers have actually been pumping underground, secrets they have fiercely guarded from public scrutiny.

California's Environmental Quality Committee is to consider a bill that would force oil and gas hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" companies to disclose what chemicals they use in their fracking solutions.

Hydraulic fracturing involves injecting rock formations with high-pressure water, sand and a combination of chemicals, to release tightly-packed hydrocarbons. It is used in the Monterey Shale Formation, which extends from Northern California to the Los Angeles area, including Kern, Ventura, Orange and Santa Barbara counties; it is also used in the Rocky Mountain West, Midwest, East Coast, Texas and Louisiana.

There is no law in California requiring companies to publicly disclose a list of all chemicals pumped in the ground during the fracking process. They include benzene, hydrochloric acid, formaldehyde and methanol.

Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski’s bill, AB 591, aims to change that. The bill is part of the growing trend of states, including Wyoming, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Texas, that have approved or are in the process of approving legislation requiring companies to disclose where fracking occurs, how much water is used in the process and what chemicals are pumped into the ground, due to the fear that toxic materials could potentially contaminate water aquifers.

AB 591 will require drillers to note whether they are fracking near active fault lines,” said Pamela King Palitz, staff attorney at Environment California, and expose the issue of tremendous water use flowing to the Central Valley that most Californians think is going to irrigate crops.”

Other jurisdictions provide that fracking chemicals need not be disclosed if they are "trade secrets" which seems to skew the scales from protection of the public and the environment in favour of unconditional industrial licence.   With what the industry has at stake it probably won't be giving up its fracking secrets without a fierce and protracted fight.

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