Increasing rules on fracking chemicals put progress at risk

05 March 2012 22:51  [Source: ICIS news]

BALTIMORE, Maryland (ICIS)--An increasing tendency among state and federal regulators to force disclosure of proprietary chemical formulas used in hydraulic fracturing could jeopardise ongoing innovations and shale gas development, a chemicals sector official said on Monday.

Bill Allmond, vice president for government and public relations for the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA), said that some of his trade group’s member firms face mounting obstacles to developing improved hydraulic fracturing fluids because of growing state and federal disclosure rules.

Hydraulic fracturing, known as “fracking”, involves injection of water, sand and chemicals under high pressure into deep shale rock formations to free-up previously inaccessible natural gas deposits.

The recent combination of fracking and horizontal drilling has enabled production of vast new supplies of natural gas over the last decade. Among other benefits to manufacturing and power generation, newly abundant natural gas resources have restored the global competitive profile of US petrochemical producers and downstream chemical makers.

But fracking has come under increasing scrutiny of environmental groups and federal and state lawmakers and regulators, many of whom charge that chemicals used in the fracking process have contaminated drinking water resources.

Speaking on the sidelines of the annual GlobalChem regulatory conference, Allmond said that recent regulations introduced in Texas require natural gas drillers to disclose the exact chemical compounds they use to facilitate fracking.

“The gas extractors don’t have a problem with that,” Allmond said, “but the chemical manufacturers of fracking fluids, many of them our members, do have trouble with that requirement.”

“If the exact formula of a fracking fluid is disclosed, what’s to stop an extractor from copying it and producing it himself?” Allmond asked.

“We are willing to disclose what is in fracking fluids,” he said, “but without giving away trade secrets.”

Allmond said that while to his knowledge Texas is the only state so far to require such complete disclosure of fracking fluids chemistry, “there is more noise about this among other states”.

In addition, he said that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is expected to issue new pre-production permit and disclosure requirements for fracking chemicals.

“Well, if you require disclosure of proprietary information even before a company begins production, that will discourage innovation and improvement, including development of greener and safer fracking chemicals,” Allmond said.

“If manufacturers are forced to disclose confidential data even before they go to market with the product, it eliminates the incentive to do that,” he said.

Allmond also said that the EPA’s plans for pre-production disclosure of fracking chemicals undermines President Barack Obama’s goal of encouraging more domestic manufacturing, innovation and exports.

“We are encouraging the White House to not let that EPA rulemaking go forward,” Allmond said.

US energy industry officials have charged that at least eight federal departments or agencies are investigating hydraulic fracturing with an eye to regulating and limiting the technology.

Cosponsored by SOCMA and the American Chemistry Council (ACC), the GlobalChem conference runs through Wednesday.

By: Joe Kamalick
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