Tuesday, December 07, 2010

TOP STORY >> New rules to go into effect for fracturing

Leader staff writer

The companies in Arkansas that contract with the natural-gas industry to break up the shale that holds the gas will be required to give the formula of their hydraulic fracturing fluids to doctors who need it to treat their patients when a new rule tentatively approved Tuesday by the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission goes into effect Jan. 15.

But those formulas won’t be available to the public, who can access only the list of ingredients.

Larry Bengal, commission director, said after a commission meeting Tuesday that environmental groups may have wanted more, but the public will have everything it needs to, for example, have chemists check water wells thought to be contaminated by fracking fluids.

Frankly, the gas producers don’t care if the formulas for fracking fluids are public knowledge, Bengal said. But the fracking companies, like the Canadian-based Calfrac in Beebe, want to protect their secret formulas from the competition.

“In my opinion, everybody got exactly what they needed,” Bengal said, adding he doesn’t think it is necessary for the public to have access to the formulas.

Bengal said the commission approved the new rules contingent on seeing the actual typed version of what was discussed during the commission meeting.

The meeting follows a public-comment session held in October on proposed changes that would require greater transparency about the makeup of fracking fluids.

As would be expected, environmental groups wanted more disclosure and the fracking companies wanted less. Both sides addressed the commission on Tuesday before the commission voted to limit access of the fluid formulas to doctors.

Bengal said concerns that emergency workers tending injured gas-field workers not having access to all the information they need are groundless.

OSHA already requires a list of fracking-fluid ingredients to be posted at every well site, he said.

In its original form, the new rule would have required companies to report detailed information about their fracking formulas including the specific names and concentrations of the ingredients.

Environmental groups complained that the language was vague. The proposed rule said the ingredients were to be reported, but not who would have access. The clarification approved on Tuesday makes it clear that the general public won’t have access to the formulas.

Bengal likened the ruling to knowing that flour and chocolate go into making a chocolate cake but he said each baker is entitled to keep the exact recipe secret.