Are We Done Fracking Around In The Dark Yet?

chicken wire

Dangerous chicken wire chemicals you need to know about. Image credit:Wikipedia
Into the daylight. The fracking industry has declared it's ready to totally change direction from the course set by former VP Dick Cheney (which was to hide from the public, information about the hazardous characteristics of fracking fluids).

As you read this, a fracking chemicals public registry is being put together. Platts reports that a US fracking chemical registry [is] to go live in a few weeks. Would have been better 4 years ago, but thanks for shining some light (finally). From Platts: "the chemical registry will allow visitors to access information, on a well-by-well basis, on the components of fracking fluids used in oil- and gas-producing basins across the US. To date, about 75 E&P; companies, representing about 80% of US shale gas production, have signed up to take part in the registry program." The initial result could be similar to what happened when USEPA first debuted the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI).The Toxic Release Inventory analogy.
A few months after TRI access went live, executives of reporting industries heard of how upset people were about being exposed to Dinitrochickenwire (moniker for any dreadful-sounding or unfamiliar chemical) emanating from their operations. While planning how to recover from the bad publicity - sometimes because of upset employee families and upset politicians, and certain cases plunging real estate values around operations - corporate directors and managers were called on to explain how it was that tons of dangerous, expensive raw materials were being wasted.

Stockholders, too, were interested in what was going to be done about it. Ultimately, leaking vessels and fittings were tightened, product yields were increased with better processes, and suppliers of the most dangerous chemicals sometimes saw reduced sales. Raw material formulations were changed by chemical suppliers to reduce customer concerns

Why I'm optimistic about this public registry.
By the time the fracking fluid registry goes live, smart participants - especially the larger firms which realized that by hiding information neighbors will assume they are hiding something dangerous - will have already demanded that fracking fluid suppliers change ingredients to eliminate or at least minimize the weight percent of hazardous ingredients. They will report use of relatively benign fluid characteristics on the registry, then, having already field tested the performance of the reformulated drilling fluids to make sure that operations can continue profitably, efficiently, and safely.

There could be losers of course. Formulators or distributors who didn't or couldn't change formulations may lose sales. Further upstream in the supply chain, sales volumes for toxic constituents could go down. Too bad.

There could be some continued quibbling between toxicologists in government, industry, and environmental groups over particular ingredients, well after the registry settles in. Perhaps some fine tuning of formulations will be needed.

By this voluntary action much of the fracking industry may have ducked highly proscriptive EPA regulations and avoided permit moratoriums. ( EPA still has to ensure, with State oversight mainly, that especially hazardous formulations are kept out of the market place.)

The main reason I am optimistic is that this change could indicate a broader tipping point for an industry long-used to keeping the public in the dark - since the mid-1980s'.

Next up:

  • self-monitoring and reporting effluent discharge characteristics directly to the EPA and state pollution control agencies (at least in those states where Republican governors have not totally de-funded and demoralized the agencies).

  • finding out how much methane is lost in the drilling process, to exert a climate forcing effect.

Democracy always works better in the light of day.

Best news of all...
De-regulatory wind just went out of the libertarian sails because an industry sector decided to do the right thing. In part, because they were under so much pressure from concerned citizens and regulatory agencies.

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