LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission unanimously approved a rule Tuesday requiring full disclosure of the chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process of natural-gas drilling, making it one of the first states to adopt such a measure.
Concerns about whether such drilling is affecting drinking water and causing other environmental problems have brought drilling practices under increased scrutiny nationwide.
Wyoming in September began requiring companies to disclose the chemicals they use in the process. Pennsylvania is adopting a similar measure.
Legislation has been introduced in Congress. The U.S. Department of the Interior is considering disclosure for drilling on federal lands.
“It seems like Arkansas is moving in the direction where everybody ultimately will go,” said Amy Mall, a senior policy analyst with the National Resources Defense Council, a New York-based environmental advocacy group.
The Fayetteville Shale formation, which runs from Northwest Arkansas to the Mississippi River, has been actively drilled for the past six years.
If there are no revisions after further review, the rule will be implemented on Jan. 15.
In another environmental matter, the commission will meet today to take up an emergency order that would impose a one-month moratorium on new permits for disposal wells for fracturing fluid because of the possibility that the wells are linked to a rash of earthquakes in north-central Arkansas.
Lawrence Bengal, director of the commission, said that releasing the names of specific chemicals used in each well is the only way to prove conclusively whether drilling is actually affecting groundwater, though he noted that wells are drilled far deeper than groundwater sources.
In an interview after the rule was approved, Bengal said the measure is “not in response to [contamination] happening. It’s to provide a mechanism to show if it is or not for parties that are concerned.”
The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality has investigated hundreds of oil and gas sites but has not found a conclusive link between complaints about water quality and drilling in the shale area.
Hydraulic fracturing is a process of extracting natural gas from underground shale rock formations by pumping millions of gallons of fluid into a well, breaking apart the rock and allowing the gas to flow freely.
“Fracking” fluid, according to information on the commission’s website, is more than 99.5 percent sand and water. But it also includes chemicals used to reduce bacteria buildup in the well, reduce friction, and prevent corrosion, among other things. Some of those chemicals can be toxic even in trace amounts. The commission has already made available a list of 13 broad categories of chemicals used in fracking fluid.
The version of the rule approved will require a more comprehensive listing of the chemicals than the preliminary version approved by the commission in September. Bengal said the revisions made since the previous hearing were intended to make sure the rule captured 100 percent of the chemicals in the fluid.
The rule requires two phases of disclosure: Companies that perform fracturing services will have to register with the state and disclose all the chemicals they plan to use in fracturing fluids in the state before beginning operations. And after each well is fractured, the companies must release a list of the chemicals actually used, along with any others added by well operators.
The companies will have to release both the names and concentrations of each additive compound in the fluid. They will also be required to release the names of all chemicals that went into the well, but not the proportions or combinations used. Medical doctors will be able to obtain any information needed to treat patients, Bengal said.
In order to protect the proprietary nature of the fluids, companies will be able to ask that some chemical names be withheld as trade secrets, if the director approves the exemption. In this case, chemical family names will be released instead.
“You’re going to know everything - that there all these additives in there and all these chemicals in there. But one of these chemicals might be in three or four additives. There wouldn’t be a way to reverse engineer and recreate the recipe everyone is using,” said Shane Khoury, deputy director and general counsel for the commission.
Environmental groups say full disclosure of the specific types of chemicals in fracking fluid is necessary in order to gauge the impact the drilling process has on groundwater.
“That enables citizens and regulators to know exactly what chemicals are being used. For example, if I just say I’m injecting petroleum distillate into the well, that could be one of several different substances. It’s much more specific if I say I’m injecting kerosene,” said Dusty Horwitt, senior counsel for Environmental WorkingGroup, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group.
Dough Sheridan, a managing director of EnergyPoint, a Houston-based market research firm that surveys oil and gas suppliers, said companies that perform “frack” jobs, such as Halliburton, have been slow to accept disclosure requirements, out of concern that formulas they consider to be trade secrets will be released or that successful formulas might become government-mandated industry standards.
Halliburton Co. initially fought the Environmental Proection Agency but recently agreed to disclose fluid data to the agency, the Wall Street Journal reported on its website.
John Peiserich, an attorney for Halliburton, said at the commission meeting that the company supported the rule. The company suggested revisions, which Bengal said were not substantial, and which were adopted by the commission.
Mall, of the National Resources Defense Council, said case law supports protection of proprietary information and companies have nothing to worry about in this regard.
“Companies can succeed while making this information available to the public,” she said.