Texas Fracking Disclosure to Start in February

Rules requiring disclosure of many chemicals used in the controversial process of hydraulic fracturing will take effect in Texas in February, oil and gas regulators decided on Tuesday.

The three members of the Texas Railroad Commission unanimously approved the new rules, which implement a law Texas passed in May requiring disclosure of the chemicals on a public website, fracfocus.org.

"With this new rule, Texans will know more about what is going in the ground for energy production than about the ingredients that go into their sodas,” Elizabeth Ames Jones, the commission's chair, said in a statement.

Fracking involves shooting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals deep underground to break up rock and retrieve oil or gas. The chemical content — heretofore largely unknown for individual wells — has stirred concerns. The new Texas rules require disclosure of chemicals for all wells permitted on or after February 1, 2012. The rules also explain how landowners can challenge "trade secrets" claims, a provision that has troubled environmentalists because it allows industry to withold information on certain chemicals for competitive reasons.

Environmentalists and the gas industry both applauded the speed of the Railroad Commission's move. "The commission has done a very good job of implementing the legislation," said Scott Anderson, a senior policy advisor with the Environmental Defense Fund in Texas. "We're especially pleased by how quickly the commission has acted."

David Blackmon, the Texas representative for America's Natural Gas Alliance, said in an email that companies in his organization "are very pleased with the commission's approval of what is the most comprehensive disclosure rule in the country." The regulations, he added, were implemented "18 months ahead of the deadline" defined in Texas law.

Anderson noted that Colorado regulators also approved rules requiring disclosure of fracking fluids on Tuesday. When Texas, a major drilling state, passed its legislation in May, it "really opened up the floodgates" for other states to require disclosure, Anderson said. Since Texas lawmakers acted, Montana, Louisiana and New Mexico (as well as Colorado) have adopted disclosure rules, and additional rules "are under development in several other jurisdictions," Anderson said. (Wyoming and Arkansas acted before Texas, however.)

The Colorado rules take effect in April, and in some ways they are stronger than Texas' rules, according to Anderson. Colorado requires companies to disclose the concentrations of all chemicals (other than those exempted by "trade secrets"), whereas in Texas, only chemicals officially considered hazardous in the workplace must have their concentrations disclosed. (The presence of other chemicals must be disclosed in Texas, but not their concentrations.)

In addition, Anderson said, Colorado has taken steps to address shortcomings of the disclosure website. Right now, the database is not searchable, he said. Colorado's new rules stipulate that if fracfocus.org is not searchable within a year, then the state must build its own searchable database. Texas lawmakers did not include such a stipulation in their legislation, he said.

However, in the rule adopted today, the commission responded to a comment about searchability by pledging to work with the groups administering fracfocus.org "to improve the website."

America's Natural Gas Alliance is a major donor to The Texas Tribune.

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