In Wyoming, oil and natural gas companies will have to reveal which chemicals they pump into the ground when using hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”—a controversial technique employed to tap into fossil fuels locked away in geological formations.
Fracking involves injecting fluid under high pressure into rock fractures, enlarging the cracks and allowing gas to move more freely into a production well. The industry says the practice, along with advances in horizontal drilling, could unlock enough natural gas to satisfy our thirst for the fuel for a century.
While companies insist that fracking is safe, environmentalists and some people who live near the operations worry that it could contaminate water supplies.
Despite industry opposition, on June 8 state regulators unanimously approved new rules that require industry to disclose chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. Wyoming is the first state to do so.
"This ruling was the right thing to do. One look at the Gulf of Mexico is proof that things don't always turn out the way drilling companies expect," Western Resource Advocates staff attorney Dan Heilig said in a prepared statement.
The move doesn’t mean that industry will have to share its recipes with the public, however. “The commission provided language in the new rules that would require state regulators not to share certain information with the public if a company can prove it is proprietary,” reports the Casper Star-Tribune.
In the May-June issue of Audubon, Ted Williams investigates the potential environmental costs of fracking in the Marcellus shale formation in the East, which contains one of the largest known gas deposits in the United States.
From “Gas Pains”:
A single frack job can require five million gallons of water. Aquatic life is at risk when gas companies dewater streams for fracking and when they store or dispose of used frack water. Not only is the industry allowed to protect the chemical composition of frack water as a trade secret, but under what’s called the “Halliburton Loophole,” fracking is exempt from Safe Drinking Water Act regulations. This was a 2005 gift from then vice president Dick Cheney to the company he used to run.
Something like three-quarters of the frack water stays in the earth, but that which flows back has acquired additional toxins such as salts, xylene, benzene, ethyl benzene, toluene, heavy metals, and naturally occurring radioactive material usually consisting of radium isotopes—bone-seeking carcinogens.
Because fracking takes place far below aquifers, groundwater contamination can be prevented by sealing drilling shafts, but the shafts aren’t always properly sealed. For example, in Dimock Township, Pennsylvania, 63 wells drilled by Texas-based Cabot Oil & Gas in nine square miles have polluted groundwater and caused private wells to explode, 15 families allege in a lawsuit. Last November the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) fined Cabot $120,000 and ordered it to provide permanent water supplies to affected families.
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