FRACKING: The Future is Transparency? (The Drill)

DALLAS — There was Range Resources, disclosing frack fluid chemicals on its own website starting in 2010. There was the formation of FracFocus, an open forum for companies to provide voluntary chemical disclosure. There was ExxonMobil’s agreement to disclose risks associated with its fracking operations. There was Baker Hughes’ announcement that it will disclose the chemicals used in its fracking fluids.

And now there is Pennsylvania, updating drilling regulations and the Environmental Protection Agency announcing “advanced notice of proposed rulemaking,” signaling a 90-day period of public comment that may end with the EPA recommending disclosure of fracking chemicals.

Disclosure seems to be trending.

The EPA’s notice may not result in any changes, when all is said and done, but that doesn’t mean industry should try to buck this trend.

FracFocus, has been a national repository of voluntary frack fluid disclosures since its launch in 2011, but critics have pushed relentlessly for laws requiring such disclosure, noting that even on the voluntary registry 16 percent of the entries contained secrecy claims.

Defanging the Boogeyman

Industry opponents have found a perfect boogeyman in fracking, and in frack fluids in particular, due to industry’s reluctance to disclose what may lurk within. When it comes right down to it, how many of us believe that environmentalists are truly terrified of fracking? What they’re terrified of is how fracking is unlocking hydrocarbon resources at such a rate as to possibly slow investment and subsidization of alternative energies.

Disclosure can help defang the boogeyman.

It shouldn’t take a new EPA recommendation, new state laws or a federal edict. Industry must finally get ahead of the story and full disclosure can help turn the negative tide of public opinion in its favor. There are stacks of studies on industry’s side, and just as many that muddy the issues, at best, or seem to strengthen opponents’ positions at worst. Nothing will cool the fractivist rhetoric faster than putting the information out there, for all to see, complete with information about how each additive is used in other daily industry and consumer applications to illustrate the harmless concentrations used in fracking operations.

Industry has created its own poor public relations image by claiming trade secrets, muzzling claimants in lawsuit settlements and failing to respond to news of spills, explosions and other disasters. We can point to the dismal response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster or any other major incident, but the point here is that it keeps happening.

Just recently, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow highlighted industry’s typical non-response while lampooning the use of diapers to clean up a dramatic pipeline spill in California. Industry was caught like a deer in headlights when “Gasland” made fracking the next cause célèbre and that deer is still standing frozen in those headlights.

Industry can’t afford to keep leaving fractivists to imagine the worst possibilities. We have to get ahead of the energy revolution story in ways that reassure the public and underscore the positive impacts.

Yes, California is now requiring companies to list the chemicals in their frack fluids. There’s a Wyoming law that could do the same (depending on the outcome of a lawsuit) and other states that have already enacted disclosure requirements. And every time the issue is forced in the form of lawsuits and new regulatory requirements, industry loses another battle in the public relations war.

It shouldn’t take lawsuits and new regulations for operators to give the communities in which they operate the peace of mind they deserve by disclosing what’s in their frack fluid mixes.

Social license key

There will likely never come a day when the oil and gas industry enjoys a high rating on the scale of public opinion. Those days are gone. But disclosing frack fluids is part of a wider social contract and the only way companies can hope to gain the “social license” to operate.

The social license requires disclosure, prompt and honest response to community concerns, and to any operational issues that have risen to the level of public knowledge. No amount of research data can take the place of greater industry transparency when it comes to not only telling the story of America’s energy revolution, but actually getting the media and the public to hear it.

Faulkner is the Founder and CEO of Dallas-based Breitling Energy Corporation, an oil and natural gas exploration and production company. His diverse and extensive background in the oil and gas industry in North America, Europe and the Middle East covers all aspects of oil and gas operations, including project management, production, facilities, drilling and business development. Faulkner serves as an advisor to the ECF Asia Shale Committee and sits on the Board of Directors for the North Texas Commission

Written By: Chris Faulkner, CEO of Breitling Energy for The Drill

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