Information on drilling fluids hard to come by in Pennsylvania

Joe Napsha
| Sunday, Aug. 28, 2011

Pennsylvania is one of only four states with regulations in place requiring drillers to disclose on a well-by-well basis the additives and chemicals used in fracturing fluid injected deep underground into oil and natural gas wells. But the state is the only one not to post the data on the Internet.

The state Department of Environmental Protection's website displays a lot of information on oil and natural gas operations -- permits issued and wells drilled, production reports, and 70 chemicals and additives five companies commonly use in fracking fluid in the state -- but nothing on the fluid used for each well.

Arkansas, Michigan and Wyoming have provisions to post well-by-well information on the Internet.

But in Pennsylvania, an interested person has to travel to one of the Department of Environmental Protection's regional offices to review a file on the well. Files on wells drilled in 10 Southwestern Pennsylvania counties are kept at the agency's office on Washington's Landing in Pittsburgh, said Jamie Legenos, a DEP spokeswoman.

The state, which implemented well-by-well disclosure regulations in February, plans to make that information available on a website, Legenos said.

"I think it is too early to tell how open state government is, or is not being about this," said Harold Schill, a political science professor who teaches an American government course at Penn State's Capital Campus in Harrisburg.

"It's a good policy" to disclose the contents of the fracking fluid, even if the state is slow to develop a website for the information, said Mark Daniels, a Slippery Rock University political science professor. The more information the public has, the more they are involved, resulting in "citizens, not government, effecting regulations through litigation," Daniels added.

Some well reports are on FracFocus, a publicly accessible Web-based registry of fracking chemicals.

Major drillers working in Pennsylvania's Marcellus shale region -- Chesapeake Energy Corp., Chevron USA Inc., EQT Corp., Range Resources Corp. and Talisman Energy Corp. -- have voluntarily posted information on the website developed by the Ground Water Protection Council, a group of state ground water agencies, and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission.

"If some of them (drillers) can do it, all of them can," said Jan Jarrett, president of Penn Future, a Harrisburg-based environmental organization.

Michigan requires companies to report hazardous chemicals used in fracturing wells so it can be posted on its Department of Environmental Quality website. But no drillers are hydraulically fracturing wells in the state, spokesman David Davis said.

Those four states are requiring disclosure by drillers at a time when the federal government does not require such information. A Department of Energy shale gas subcommittee report issued this month said a method should be open so the public can study shale gas operations. "There is no economic or technical reason to prevent public disclosure of all chemicals in fracturing fluids, with an exception for genuinely proprietary information," the report said.

When the natural gas industry reports the contents of fracking fluid on a well-by-well basis, claims of drilling operations polluting water sources can be verified by tests on the pollutants.

Three other states -- Texas, West Virginia and Colorado -- are in the process or are considering rules requiring disclosure chemicals in fracking fluid.

Texas passed legislation in May requiring disclosure on a well-by-well basis be posted on a website.

"We're in the process of implementing the full-disclosure legislation," said Ramona Nye, a spokeswoman for the Texas Railroad Commission, which oversees the oil and gas industry. The commission is writing the regulations, which are to be completed by July 2012.

West Virginia's Department of Environmental Protection filed an emergency rule on Aug. 22 increasing its regulatory oversight of horizontal drilling, including listing for the public the additives used in fracturing. The regulations will take effect within 42 days, said spokesman Thomas J. Aluise.

Colorado is considering a rule that would require drillers to disclose the contents of hydraulic fracking fluid but is in the "very early stages" of that process, said Todd Hartman, a spokesman for the Department of Natural Resources. Colorado requires drillers to provide that information when state regulators or health officials want it, Hartman said.

While Pennsylvania has had a lot of information about natural gas operations in the Marcellus shale region since 2008, former Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger said there is a simple reason the state has not posted the fracking fluid reports on a website.

"The department needs more money to make it available on the Web. It's (budget) been slashed past the bone. That department needs several hundred thousand dollars to do it," Hanger said.

The state is developing a computerized data system, in conjunction with the Groundwater Protection Council, to track wells, permits and other information, Legenos said. The first phase is scheduled to be completed and implemented in mid-2012.

Environmental groups, however, say the state could do a better job of improving access to the files on the fracking fluid.

"I don't see why that kind of information can't be done as well," on its website, said Myron Arnowitt, director of Pennsylvania Clean Water Action, a statewide environmental organization with an office in Pittsburgh.

"The state can do it quicker," and make the information as accessible as it is in other states, Penn Future's Jarrett said.

Additional Information:

State's requirements

Since February, Pennsylvania has required drillers and service companies to disclose the additives and the chemical constituents of hydraulic fracturing fluid used to open shale to produce oil and gas. The state requires the following:

• A descriptive list of the chemical additives in the stimulation fluid, including any acid, biocide, breaker, brine, corrosion inhibitor, friction reducer, gel, iron control, oxygen scavenger, agent, proppant, scale inhibitor and surfactant.

• The percent, by volume, of each chemical additive in the stimulation fluid.

• A list of the chemicals, by name and chemical abstract service number, corresponding to the appropriate additive.

• The percent, by volume, of each chemical listed.

• The total volume of the base fluid.

Source: The Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Act

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