US Shale Faces Water, Transparency Complaints

Controversy over the risks associated with hydraulic fracturing have prompted US unconventional natural gas producers to provide more specifics about the chemicals used in the process. But critics complain that they are still not disclosing enough detail, and that state governments may have to force the pace.

Major environmental organizations — which often participate in government public comment periods, file lawsuits and drum up support from sympathetic lawmakers — are urging state governments to strengthen their disclosure laws and enforcement programs. They point out that 15 states with confirmed fracking activities have no disclosure policies, although 14 do ( WGI Jun.20’12 ). They are also calling on the Interior Department to strengthen its proposed set of disclosure requirements for drilling and completion on federal lands before finalizing the plan.

Chief among green groups’ complaints is that the industry’s national mechanism for disclosing fracking chemicals on a site-by-site basis,www.FracFocus.org, does not provide enough detail to allow producers and service firms to use it for full compliance with state disclosure laws.

“Because the information provided by FracFocus is so limited, there is not a single state in which disclosures on the site contain all information required by the state rule,” says Amy Mall, policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council, a green group that recently circulated an issue brief on the topic. “By submitting data to FracFocus, a company appears to be complying with state requirements, but it may not be.”

Another complaint is that FracFocus can’t organize data in aggregate. Those wishing to tabulate industry-wide statistics on fracking procedures now have to click on each listed frack job individually and organize the data themselves. Green groups also point to a new Bloomberg analysis showing that of 18,158 wells readied for production in the second half of 2011, the ingredients of only 8,555 were disclosed on FracFocus.

The movement for disclosure of fracking chemicals — originally launched because of fears about drinking-water pollution — has gradually expanded to include other complaints about gas drilling. As environmentalists have had difficulty proving a link between fracking and water pollution risks, they’ve turned to other potential ramifications of drilling, such as fugitive air emissions, methane migration and water consumption ( WGI Aug.24’11 ).

The volumes of water extracted by gas drillers from rivers and streams have become a particularly sore point amid the current drought. It is already the worst in the US in 50 years, and the US National Weather Service predicts it will last through at least October.

“Five Pennsylvania counties have stopped issuing permits to pull water from streams,” notes Chris Faulkner, chief executive of Texas-based Breitling Oil and Gas. “This will cause companies to curtail drilling, and could be a death sentence for the Marcellus Shale, an enormous reserve of untapped natural gas.”

Some plays could be hit harder by the drought — and by extension, become a bigger target for critics — than others. Faulkner says the Eagleford Shale in South Texas, for example, is very water-intensive because it requires up to 12 million gallons per well and lies in a state that is particularly hard-hit by drought. “When the average US household uses over 127,400 gallons of water a year, the water used by one well could supply water needs for 94 households for an entire year,” he says, citing statistics from the American Water Works Association.

Original Article:  World Gas Intelligence – a  newsletter  of the Energy Intelligence Group