Madeleine Smith: Chemical Disclosure

Many states including Colorado have also adopted a policy of requiring companies to provide a full disclosure of chemicals used in their fracking fluids with the exception of chemicals the company deem to be “trade secrets.”  According to the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC), 14 out of 29 states with fracking activity have disclosure rules in effect requiring all chemicals in base fluids to be listed and publicly available.  Some states even require that this information be disclosed before use of the fluid (McFeeley, 2012).  Colorado requires companies to disclose all chemicals to FracFocus, a public chemical disclosure registry intended to increase public accessibility to information about fracking within 60 days of concluding a fracturing treatment or no later than 120 days after starting the fracturing (Notice to Operators, 2013).

One aspect of the Colorado disclosure policy requires companies to provide information on all chemical components in their fracking fluid to doctors if they ask for this information, in exchange for a promise to keep those components confidential.  Interestingly enough, that clause was a major point of contention with Act 13, Pennsylvania’s fracking measure, because companies were concerned about trade secret leaks (Detrow, 2012). To hold Colorado doctors accountable for this confidentiality agreement, all signed a nondisclosure form agreeing to keep the chemicals secret.  This confidentiality agreement has been criticized for being a “gag clause” since doctors are informed of all chemicals in the fluid but legally must keep from revealing the specifics of these chemicals to their patients even if they cause illness.  Pennsylvania voters and lawmakers fought hard for legislation requiring companies to disclose all chemicals to the public and eliminate the gag clause, but that was an uphill battle.  Instead Pennsylvania adopted the same disclosure requirements as Colorado and other western states such as Wyoming and Texas (StateImpact, 2013).

Although providing information about chemical use has been a crucial first step, the lack of scientific research about the effects of combining these chemicals with other environmental components makes the data less than useful.  Dangerous chemical reactions may be happening when chemicals from fracking fluid mix with chemicals from the environment or other pollutants, but states cannot finance detailed enough investigations to measure these effects.  Having records of the base chemicals holds companies accountable to some degree, but states still lack the resources and manpower to fully use the information it requests.