A new Texas Railroad Commission rule requiring oil and natural gas operators to publicly disclose the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing of natural gas and oil wells takes effect today.
The rule also requires that operators disclose how much water is used in fracking, a process that may require 1 million to 5 million gallons for a well drilled in North Texas' Barnett Shale.
Ed Ireland, executive director of the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council, an industry group, said he believes that the information, to be disclosed at www.fracfocus.org, will be most sought by "those who have a keen interest in the environmental questions being raised regarding hydraulic fracturing."
Critics of fracking, including some prominent environmental groups, have expressed concerns about its potential to cause groundwater contamination. Concerns have also been raised about the amount of water used, especially in drought-stricken Texas where water restrictions have been imposed.
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Industry representatives say fracking is a safe process that poses minimal environmental threat and has been used successfully for decades to enable greater recovery of natural gas and oil.
Fracking, coupled with advanced horizontal drilling, has been essential to the U.S. shale-gas drilling boom that has created a national surplus of the fuel used for heating, industry and power generation. As a result, gas prices have fallen dramatically and significantly reduced consumers' utility bills.
The new state disclosure requirement will apply to wells permitted by the Railroad Commission today and thereafter.
While the individual chemicals must be disclosed, a "supplier, service company or operator" is not required to disclose trade secrets about its specific fracking-fluid formula unless the state attorney general or a court "determines the information is not entitled to trade-secret protection," the commission has said.
Fracfocus.org was launched in April by the Ground Water Protection Council and Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, national organizations associated with state agencies such as the Railroad Commission, the chief regulator of Texas' oil and gas industry, and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
Numerous Texas oil and gas operators, as well as energy companies operating in other states, have been voluntarily posting information on the website about fracking chemicals. Fort Worth-based Range Resources was an early leader in voluntarily disclosing chemicals it used in the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania.
The Railroad Commission approved the disclosure rule Dec. 13 after the Legislature passed a bill requiring it.
Jack Z. Smith, 817-390-7724