In Texas, Bill Requiring Disclosure of Fracking Chemicals Wins Initial House O.K

The Texas House gave tentative approval Wednesday to a bill requiring natural gas drillers to publicly disclose the chemicals they use in the controversial practice known as hydraulic fracturing.

“The public has stated clearly they want to know what chemicals are being used in the hydraulic fracturing process,” said Rep. Jim Keffer (R-Eastland), the bill's lead author. The House passed the bill on a voice vote, meaning a count was not recorded.

A Senate hearing is scheduled today for a similar bill filed by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound).

Hydraulic fracturing, pumping millions of gallons of chemical-laced water deep into the ground to fracture the rock and release the gas, has been used in thousands of wells around the country but has drawn scrutiny over concerns of groundwater contamination.

This month, the Obama administration appointed a panel of experts to recommend ways to make domestic natural gas production safer and cleaner.

In Texas and other states, residents who believed their water was contaminated because of “fracking” have had trouble proving it. Repeatedly, energy companies have argued that the water was contaminated before drilling started. Critics and industry groups have said disclosure requirements would bring some clarity to the issue. Several drillers have started voluntarily disclosing their fracking chemicals.

If it becomes law, Keffer's bill will require companies to disclose the fracturing chemicals for every new well to the Texas Railroad Commission and to, an online database run by the Ground Water Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission. The House bill would require companies to estimate the concentrations of chemicals categorized as hazardous by the federal government but only to disclose the names of other chemicals, Keffer said.

Companies would be allowed to call certain chemicals trade secrets and keep them out of the database. But a landowner with a well on his or her property or an adjacent property could challenge that exemption.

Though it hasn't passed, the Texas approach is drawing interest from other states including California. Wyoming and a few other states already require different levels of disclosure of fracking chemicals.

“I think this is a good, balanced template that other states can look at,” Keffer said.

Rep. Lon Burnam (D-Fort Worth), one of the authors, echoed some environmental groups when he said the bill is weaker than he had hoped but is still worth passing.

© 2011 McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

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