Industry attacks leaked draft of fracking fluid rule

The oil-and-gas industry is attacking a leaked draft of long-awaited government rules that would require companies to disclose the chemicals they use in hydraulic fracturing on federal lands.

The Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management has drafted a rule that would require companies to reveal the trade names and purposes of fracturing fluid additives and to name the specific chemicals involved and the volumes they plan to use. The rule also contains a trade-secret exemption if companies can show that state or federal laws and regulations protect the information from public disclosure.

Environmental advocates have raised concerns that harmful chemicals including known carcinogens go into fluids used in hydraulic fracturing, in which mixtures of water, sand and chemicals are injected underground at high pressures to break up rock that holds oil and gas. Environmentalists and industry representatives disagree on whether the fluids can contaminate water supplies.

Some environmentalists called the BLM draft rule a good start but said they hoped the trade secrets exemption won’t be applied too liberally. Industry complained that the rule duplicated what states already do.

The draft rules, obtained by the Houston Chronicle and confirmed by the Interior Department, must undergo public comment once they’re proposed, and their provisions could change before becoming final. Long in the works, the rules would come as part of what President Obama has said is the need to develop domestic energy resources “without putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk.”

Also under the draft rules, before starting to fracture a well, operators would have to perform tests to show it’s built strongly enough to withstand maximum operating pressures. And they would have to disclose where they get their fracturing water from and how they would dispose of the wastewater that resurfaces.

The rules would create a “redundant layer of requirements” because states have laws and rules that already apply to companies operating on federal lands within their boundaries, said Kathleen Sgamma with the Western Energy Alliance, a Denver-based industry group. She questioned why the department was writing the rules before the Environmental Protection Agency completes a study of how fracturing affects water.

Adam Fetcher, an Interior spokesman, defended the impetus for the rules.

“It is essential that the public have full confidence that the right safety and environmental protections are in place,” he said in a statement.

Some states such as Texas already require disclosure of chemicals in fracturing fluids, and more are mulling it, industry representatives said.

They also pointed to, a chemical registry website launched by state regulators. Industry is trying to increase voluntary participation in the site, Sgamma said.

“The federal government does not need to create a new, additional disclosure process when one that works is already in place,” Jeff Eshelman, spokesman for the Independent Petroleum Association of America, an industry group, said in an email. The group is still studying the rule’s well-integrity and wastewater provisions, he said.

Texas state Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, chairman of the state House Energy Resources Committee, said he hadn’t seen the draft rule. Keffer is the architect of his state’s new law requiring disclosure on but allowing a limited trade-secret exemption.

“But I hope they look at the work that is already being done by states … and will not try to reinvent the wheel,” he said.

Matt Watson, senior energy policy manager for the Environmental Defense Fund, an environmental group, said some states’ disclosure requirements are weaker than the BLM draft rule.

He said the Interior Department “did a good job of studying the experience of the states and capturing the lessons learned there.”

But in any BLM rule with a trade-secret exemption, “mechanisms need to be put in place to ensure trade-secret protections are narrowly applied and strictly enforced,” Watson said.