According to Reuters, on Monday, October 31, 2011, Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Interior (DOI), David Hayes, told the Department of Energy’s shale-gas advisory panel that DOI will issue rules “in a couple of months” requiring the disclosure of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” on federal lands. Fracking is the controversial technique that involves injecting a mixture of water, sand, and chemicals into shale formations at high pressures to extract oil and gas. Recent technological advances have facilitated greater use of the technique leading to concerns about potential water contamination and air pollution. The well-known documentary, “Gasland,” purported to document some of the environmental harm resulting from improper use of the technique. DOI hopes that greater transparency will increase accountability while fostering public confidence. The Department’s decision is consistent with other initiatives the Obama Administration, particularly through EPA, has undertaken to increase public access to information on chemicals, placing confidential business information at risk.
Reuters reports that about 14 percent of all U.S. natural gas production occurred on federal land during the last fiscal year. DOI supposedly estimates that fracking is used for about 90 percent of gas wells drilled on public lands. Accordingly, only a fraction of wells in the U.S. would be affected by the rules. Implicit in the Department’s decision to require disclosure is the reasonable assumption that the same chemicals will be used on both public and private lands subsequent to the rule’s implementation. By disclosing those used on federal lands, stakeholders will have insight into those used on private lands thereby gaining confidence in the fracking process. Moreover, several states have disclosure rules in effect or under development.
According to Reuters, DOI’s announcement is part of a larger effort by the Obama Administration to regulate hydraulic fracturing in a way that instills confidence without over-burdening the industry. Last week, EPA announced that it will promulgate rules for disposing of wastewater from shale gas wells. Additional information about the Administration’s initiatives is available here and here. Information from the American Petroleum Institute and others is available here.