EPA to pursue new fracking fluid disclosure requirements

May 15, 2014

While hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking" wells have contributed heavily to overall domestic oil production, the amount each region produces can vary widely. 

For example, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that the average recovery of wells in the Eagle Ford shale located in South Texas was 168,000 bbl/well. However, the median for each county was only 103,000 bbl/well, suggesting that some wells are significantly more productive than others and drive up the average.

"There is still a great deal of uncertainty underlying the recovery of tight oil in known plays as well as the potential for production from additional plays or other layers within a currently productive formation that has not been tested," the EIA report reads. "The application of refinements to current technologies, as well as new technology advances, can also have significant but uncertain impacts on the recoverability of tight and shale crude oil."

In the case of fracking, much of the technological advances have to do with new techniques and the specific chemicals that are used in fracking fluid. However, petrochemical companies that seek to improve their drilling techniques may soon have to ensure that they are complying with a new set of federal regulations.

EPA moves toward requiring fracking chemical disclosure

Though domestic fracking is one of the major reasons why the U.S. has gotten so close to energy independence for the first time in decades, one aspect of the process has always garnered concern from critics. They worry about the chemicals that are used in fracking fluids, the potential effects that these chemicals can have on water supplies and the fact the drilling companies are not required to disclose information about the solutions they use. 

Of course, some companies do make their chemical additions public on websites like FracFocus.org, but regulations do not set any ground rules for how much information they have to include. However, according to a report by Bloomberg, the U.S. Environmental Protections Agency is taking the first steps toward requiring full disclosure, using its authority under the Toxic Substances Control Act.

Environmental activists have cheered the move. 

"We want to be sure that there is some agency that actually is collecting this information about what is being used in these shale plays across the country," Deborah Goldberg, a lawyer at Earthjustice, told the news source. "The disclosure we are getting right now is spotty."

Still, most policymakers expect this process to be a slow one. White House advisor John Podesta told the news source that the Obama Administration still intends to allow states to handle the brunt of regulatory activities for the time being.

"I think we're trying to work with the states to ensure that people can be reassured," Podesta said. "The issue around particularly fracking fluids is largely managed at the state level."

Petrochemical companies should work with environmental consultants to ensure that they are able to comply with any new disclosure requirements while keep their costs low and avoiding a negative impact to their drilling operations.