In the last few months, we’ve been keenly interested in the practice of hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking’ as it’s commonly known…this method of resource extraction injects high pressures of water, sand and chemicals into deep rock formations, causing natural gas deposits to come to the surface.
Although this extraction method has been around for decades, it has increasingly become popular in recent years across the U.S., including Colorado. Considering proximity to homes and communities, many though have become concerned about the practice’s effects on groundwater supplies.
This past Tuesday, the regulatory board that oversees the gas industry in Colorado unanimously approved rules for disclosure. Beginning next April, fracking operators will have to disclose the concentrations of chemicals they’re using in their operations. Drillers will also have to give 48 hour notice before pumping chemicals into the ground.
While companies can claim a ‘trade secret,’ they will still have to disclose the chemical family and concentration. If there’s an emergency situation, they will have to disclose the specific chemicals to health officials.
Disclosure requirements are similar to rules recently approved in Texas. But Colorado goes a step further by requiring operators to disclose concentrations of the chemicals they’re using.
“That’s the big advancer here,” says Michael Freeman, an attorney for Earthjustice who worked with industry officials to write the rules. “We’re getting a full picture of what’s in that fracking fluid.”
These new disclosure rules were negotiated between environmentalists and industry attorneys in what was dubbed as “…an informal atmosphere.”
Joe Sepman, an attorney for the Colorado Petroleum Association says the effort(s) “…yielded a good rule for the state and a workable rule for the industry.”
Halliburton Co. and other drilling companies expressed opposition over the new rules saying chemicals were proprietary.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently issued a report claiming they found a possible link between fracking fluids and groundwater contamination in Pavillion, Wyoming. Residents in the small town began complaining about a chemical smell in their water. Subsequently, health officials warned residents to not drink the tap water after the EPA found hydrocarbons.
Other states like Arkansas, Montana, Texas and Wyoming require disclosures but do not force operators to disclose concentrations of the chemicals they use.
In Colorado, fracking operators will have post the list of chemicals on FracFocus.org, a web database started between agencies in Colorado and Texas. The database is searchable by well location, company and type of chemical used. According to voluntary disclosures currently on the database, fracking fluids mainly consist of a mixture of water and sand along with a small percentage of petroleum chemicals and isopropanol, an ingredient commonly found in rubbing alcohol.
Fracking fluids may also contain diesel, benzene and other chemicals found in gasoline according to current disclosures says Michael Freeman, the attorney for Earthjustice.
Disclosure is currently voluntary but will become mandatory in Colorado next April.
As we’ve said before, hydraulic fracturing and other mining operations are one of the most dangerous occupations for workers in Colorado. However, use of these chemicals may also pose other hazards to surrounding residents. See the news report below for more info on the potential contamination in Wyoming and the debate surrounding the safety of hydraulic fracturing.