Oklahoma Corporation Commission Recommends Mandatory Disclosure of Hydraulic Fracturing Fluids

Article excerpt

Mandatory disclosure of chemicals used in the process of hydraulic fracturing is important, and Oklahoma needs to make a statement on the issue, the chairwoman of the Corporation Commission said. Dana Murphy, a self-proclaimed farm and ranch girl, discussed recent changes to oil and gas regulations to a group of 183 members of the Canadian County Mineral Owners Association at a meeting March 27 in El Reno.

Hydraulic fracturing, the process of injecting highly pressurized water, sand and chemicals into underground rock formations in oil and gas drilling, has been done safely for decades, she said. But it only takes one situation for the Environmental Protection Agency to become involved in regulating this process.

"It really behooves us to do things right," she said.

On March 16 the OCC approved rules to mandate disclosure of hydraulic fracturing fluids through the website at FracFocus.org, adding Oklahoma to a short list of states to do so. The process of hydraulic fracturing, commonly referred to as fracking, along with advances in horizontal drilling, is credited with the massive boom in oil and gas drilling in the United States. Environmentalists remain skeptical about the chemicals used in the process, and are concerned about possible contamination of drinking water.

Oil and gas industry groups said there have been no documented cases of pollution related to this process. The EPA is currently studying the effect of fracking on groundwater, and expects a first report by the end of the year, according to the agency's website.

The rules are still awaiting approval from the state Legislature, which may or may not deal with this political hot potato before summer recess. The OCC has been able to get chemical information from oil and gas producers and service providers for years, said Lori Wrotenbery, OCC director of the Oil and Gas Conservation Division. The new rule complements the existing authority, she said.

"The commission is addressing through this rule-making the desire of the public for information about the chemicals that are being used in hydraulic fracturing operations," Wrotenbery said.

With condition

The OCC began visiting with interested parties in August, circulated an informal early draft in January and held two technical conferences before the commission meeting on March 16.

At that meeting, several major oil and gas companies submitted public comments in support of the new rule, including Apache, Chesapeake Energy, Chevron U.S.A. and Devon Energy Corp.

Halliburton Energy Services, one of the nation's largest providers of oil-field services, including fracking, supports the rule with the condition that it would protect trade secrets and proprietary information related to the formula of the fluids used. The company invests hundreds of millions of dollars each year developing innovations in this technology, according to the public comment submitted to the OCC.

"(Halliburton) fully supports the industry's efforts to provide transparency with respect to fluids used in fracture stimulation operations through the FracFocus chemical disclosure registry ... because it provides an appropriate balance between disclosure and protection of trade secrets," Halliburton wrote.

The Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, whose members are multistate operators, said in a public comment to the OCC that it supports the rule-making and agrees with Halliburton's suggestions.

Environmental Defense Fund, a New York-based group, said the decision to use FracFocus is sensible, according to its public comment to the OCC. The site has a proven track record, is available at no cost to Oklahoma taxpayers, and has a simple and consistent interface that is easy for the public and multistate operators to use, the group wrote. It disagreed with Halliburton's suggestion, writing that it would weaken the disclosure rule. …