As the demand for new energy sources increases, so too does the practice of oil and natural gas extraction known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Fracking involves shooting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into an underground well to create cracks in the surrounding shale, allowing trapped energy sources to travel to the surface. As the practice gains popularity internationally, so too does the demand for regulation. First and foremost, governments and citizens are demanding that oil and gas companies disclose the chemicals they use during the fracking process.
Many states—including Arkansas, Colorado, Montana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wyoming—already have disclosure laws on the books, although they differ widely in stricture, with some requiring disclosure only to regulators, and others allowing companies to completely withhold information about chemical additives which they consider to be trade secrets. Ohio has passed disclosure legislation that is expected to be signed into law, California is considering regulations and Vermont has gone so far as to completely ban any type of fracking within the state. France and Belgium have also banned fracking completely, and moratoriums on the practice have been declared in New York State, parts of Delaware and the Canadian province of Quebec.
The insistence on chemical disclosure comes from fears that fracking could contaminate water resources. Additional worries abound that vented chemicals coming from the wells enter the atmosphere and cause health problems for residents that live in the vicinity. In fact, a new report published by the International Energy Agency (IEA) calls for mandatory disclosure of all fracking chemicals, not to mention new, stricter rules regarding well construction and a target goal of zero venting and minimized flaring of methane at fracking sites. All of these measures, they say, are necessary to alleviate worries about water and environmental contamination and "win public confidence by demonstrating exemplary performance."
Even if more states pass strict disclosure regulations, as called for by the IEA report, it will not be enough to prevent environmental contamination. Environmentalists say that dangerous chemicals can cause contamination throughout the lifecycle of a well, not just during the initial fracking process. In order to better protect the public, chemical disclosure should be mandatory for the entire time a well is operational; to date, no state or country has gone that far in regulating chemical disclosures.
While legislators continue to debate the best way to regulate fracking, residents in the vicinity of fracking operations remain unprotected, vulnerable to illness caused by the dangerous chemicals used by the oil and gas industry. If you or a loved one has been harmed by fracking, you may be entitled to compensation. Contact an environmental contamination attorney from Arnold & Itkin for a free consultation regarding your case.