Let’s close the information gap about fracking

Let’s close the information gap about fracking by Michael Hiltzik, June 10, 2012, LA Times
Residents near fracking sites have reported that chemicals have rendered their water unusable and that gas has migrated into their mains…. “No one seems to know where the wells were and there’s no testing and no one knows what chemicals are being used,” Pavley observes. “It had been a self-regulated thing.” Oh, right. Self-regulation. If you’d like a sample of how well that works in principle, consider that Wall Street was largely “self-regulated” before it created the crash of 2008. … The industry numbers come from voluntary submissions from fracking companies to the industry website Fracfocus.org. But it’s only fair to say that, objectively speaking, the website is worthless. It’s voluntary, so no one can tell whether it’s complete or reliable, and there’s no penalty for withholding information. … The biggest sticking point involves trade secrets — that is, the exact formulation of the fluids injected into the ground during fracking. The industry wants to withhold these secrets even from regulators. That’s a “non-starter” for the Environmental Working Group, which sponsored both original fracking measures. The industry’s preferred language would require well operators to file a form claiming a trade secret, without fully describing the secret to regulators. A given chemical, for example, could be identified merely by reference to its “chemical family or similar descriptor.” That could render the identification uninformative if not downright misleading — after all, it’s not unusual for a single chemical family to comprise medicines as well as poisons. “The oil and gas industry wants to determine what is a trade secret and not even give the agency the names of the chemicals they consider secret,” says Renee Sharp, the environmental group’s California director. “So if you had some contamination later on, it would be very hard to trace it to fracking. You wouldn’t even know what chemicals to look for, and that is a real problem.”

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