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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Hydraulic Fracturing: Chemical Disclosure Requirements

Brandon J. Murrill
Legislative Attorney

Adam Vann
Legislative Attorney

Hydraulic fracturing is a technique used to free oil and natural gas trapped underground in lowpermeability rock formations by injecting a fluid under high pressure in order to cause cracks in the formations. The composition of a fracking fluid varies with the nature of the formation, but typically contains mostly water; a proppant to keep the fractures open, such as sand; and a small percentage of chemical additives. Some of these additives may be hazardous to health and the environment. The Shale Gas Production Subcommittee of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board (SEAB) has recommended public disclosure, on a well-by-well basis, of all of the chemical ingredients added to fracking fluids, with some protection for trade secrets.

Currently, no such law or regulation exists at the federal level. In his 2012 State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama said he would obligate “all companies that drill for gas on public lands to disclose the chemicals they use,” citing health and safety concerns. Not long afterward, the draft of a proposed fracking chemical disclosure rule from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) was disclosed. This draft rule would require companies employing hydraulic fracturing on lands managed by BLM to disclose the content of the fracking fluid. In addition, there have been legislative efforts in the 112th Congress. H.R. 1084 and S. 587, the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act (FRAC Act), would create more broadly applicable disclosure requirements for parties engaged in hydraulic fracturing.

Chemical disclosure laws or proposals at the state level vary widely. Of the 11 current laws and three proposals examined in this report, only a few require direct public disclosure of chemical information by mandating that parties post the information on the FracFocus chemical disclosure website. The level of detail required to be disclosed often depends on how states protect trade secrets, as these protections may allow submitting parties to withhold information from disclosure at their discretion or to submit fewer details about proprietary chemicals, except, perhaps, in emergencies. Even if a disclosure law does not protect information from public disclosure, other state laws, such as an exemption in an open records law, may do so. States also have varying laws regarding the timing of these disclosure requirements.

This report provides an overview of current and proposed laws at the state and federal levels that require the disclosure of the chemicals added to the fluid used in hydraulic fracturing. Appendix A provides a glossary of many of the terms used in this report. Appendix B contains a table summarizing the fracking chemical disclosure requirements described in this report. For an overview of the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), including a discussion of baseline water testing issues, see CRS Report R41760, Hydraulic Fracturing and Safe Drinking Water Act Issues, by Mary Tiemann and Adam Vann.

Date of Report: April 4, 2012
Number of Pages: 21
Order Number: R42461
Price: $29.95

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