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Texas Senate OKs fracking disclosure bill

05/25/2011 9:52 PM

05/25/2011 10:05 PM

AUSTIN -- A bill requiring natural gas drillers to publicly disclose the chemicals they use in hydraulic fracturing passed the Texas Senate on Wednesday but only after an effort to delay part of its implementation was defeated.

Hydraulic fracturing -- called fracking -- pumps millions of gallons of chemical-laced water deep into the ground to break up rock formations and release trapped natural gas.

Among the concerns about the practice are whether it can contaminate groundwater.

The disclosure bill is a rarity in Austin this legislative session for attracting support of both industry groups and environmentalists.

Once the bill passed the House this month, its fate in the Senate was quickly was in doubt. Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, chairman of the committee that oversees the energy industry, said he had just learned about the proposal and was working to formulate a position on it. But Fraser ended up the lead Senate sponsor of the bill.

A few other states already require some disclosure of fracking chemicals. On the Senate floor, lawmakers praised the Texas bill as a model that other states will follow.

"This is going to be landmark legislation," Fraser said.

The House version of the bill requires companies to disclose the fracking chemicals for every new well to the Texas Railroad Commission and a third-party database starting January 2012.

Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, filed an amendment that would push back the starting date for disclosing carcinogenic chemicals to September 2012 and all other chemicals to September 2013. Hegar said the delay made sense because of fracking studies that are under way, including one by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Fraser backed Hegar's amendment, but three North Texas senators -- Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, and Florence Shapiro, R-Plano -- worked to kill it.

"I do think our communities have waited far too long for this information," Davis said.

Nelson, a co-sponsor of the bill, said all sides support disclosure.

"I'm ready to go full-steam ahead. I don't want to delay implementation," Nelson said.

Hegar responded: "I want to move full-steam ahead, but I want to make sure we get it right. The oil and gas industry is very important in the state of Texas."

The amendment died, 21-9.

Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, who guided the bill in the House, said "representatives of Devon Energy," the largest natural gas producer in North Texas' Barnett Shale, were behind Hegar's amendment. Devon had publicly supported the bill that passed the House.

"They haven't been negotiating in good faith," Keffer said. Devon spokesman Chip Minty said the company's position has always been clear.

"We continue to support the bill, or at least not oppose it, and we supported the amendment because we thought it made sense given the EPA study," Minty said.

Davis unsuccessfully tried to amend the bill to include studies on the effects of hydraulic fracturing and the feasibility of requiring companies to add a tracer substance to fracking fluid to make it easier to settle contamination claims.

Hegar was able to amend the bill to include another piece of legislation -- an overhaul of the Railroad Commission that got stuck in negotiations. Lawmakers have until the session's end on Monday to work out differences between the House and Senate versions.

Aman Batheja, 817-390-7695

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