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HOUSTON - Texas Gov. Rick Perry has signed a bill requiring drillers to publicly disclose the chemicals they use when extracting oil and gas from dense rock formations, the first state to pass such a law. Several other state agencies have passed regulations forcing some disclosure, but none have made it a law. Texas' law will force drillers to post the chemicals and the amounts used beginning in July 2012. The issue has taken on national importance as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is used in more states to extract once out-of-reach hydrocarbons from impermeable shale formations. Drillers pump chemical-laced water into the ground at high pressure to crack the rock. Environmental groups worry the chemicals could taint aquifers and water supplies. The industry says the process is safe.
Four states in addition to Texas -- Wyoming, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, and Michigan -- are working on laws to require disclosure of fracking chemicals, but none of them mandate that drillers disclose the concentration of the the chemicals used. Which means that no one has any idea how much is actually being used, or spilled. Potentially, this is sort of like calling poison control and telling them someone drank some antifreeze, but failing to mention that they downed a whole bottle. It's better than not calling poison control, but it still isn't the whole story.
A second issue is that companies are not required to disclose "non-hazardous" chemicals. This would be fine if all the chemicals they use had been evaluated for their toxicity, but only a tiny fraction have. Worse, chemicals that harm the environment but not humans aren't even addressed. Finally, companies don't have to disclose any chemical that they claim is a "trade secret." This makes sense until you realize that it could invalidate the entire law. Want to inject millions of gallons of benzene directly into the ground? As long as it's garnished with your secret blend of herbs and spices, you can go right ahead!
State What's reported Volume or concentration used Proprietary chemicals Posted online
Wyoming* All chemicals used in fracking.Volume and concentration of the products are disclosed, but not of individual ingredients in chemical mixtures.Disclosed to regulators; secret to the public.Yes, via state website.
Arkansas All chemicals used in fracking.No.Exempt.Yes, via state website.
Pennsylvania All hazardous chemicals used at an individual well after fracking is complete.For hazardous chemicals only.Unclear.**No; available by request.
Michigan Must submit Material Safety Data Sheets for hazardous chemicals.For hazardous chemicals only.Exempt.Yes, via state website.
Texas*** All chemicals used in fracking.For hazardous chemicals only.To be determined.Yes, via state website and FracFocus, an industry website.
* Wyoming was the first state to require disclosure of fracking fluids. ** Pennsylvania officials did not return calls or emails seeking clarification. *** The Texas legislature passed the law in May 2011, but state regulators have until 2013 to complete the actual rules .