Are Fracking Chemicals a Secret? (UPDATE)

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The health risks of hydraulic fracturing have been key in policymaking debates, with health advocates calling on legislators to assess fracking chemicals before allowing the polemic practice to take place.

Friends of fracking, however, have pushed back against full disclosure: in Pennsylvania, for example, physicians can't completely freely discuss these compounds.

There's a reason why -- but it doesn't sound all that convincing.

Gas drilling companies have claimed that these substances are trade secrets, according to the Zanesville Times Recorder, a newspaper in a part of Ohio potentially impacted by fracking. So, if a doctor suspects that a patient has fallen ill because of exposure to a fracking chemical, he or she can make a written request to find out info about this chemical. It seems like the physician must sign a confidentiality agreement to get that data. Columnist Darrell Shahan sums it up as follows:

"Officials involved with the law say the information can be used for all medical purposes, but the confidentiality agreement 'is designed to prevent proprietary information from reaching the general public ...' In other words, the public is not entitled to know the health risks to which they might be exposed."

Ohio, which sits on part of the gas-rich Marcellus Shale Formation, might consider a measure similar to Pennsylvania's. It's unclear whether New York would follow suit.

The Interior Department, however, is weighing rules for fracking on public lands -- which likely would require chemical disclosure. But The Hill reports that the oil and gas industry is already rallying in opposition, meeting with White House officials to stave off regulations.

UPDATE: A Voice reader pointed us to a list of disclosed fracking chems. Check it out at ProPublica.

Follow Victoria Bekiempis @vicbekiempis.

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2 comments
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Robert Finne
Robert Finne

The problem with disclosure is there is no standardized list of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. It varies from state to state and even well to well. Each state with a disclosure rule allows for companies to keep certain items "trade secret." They may have to give up the chemical family such as biocide or descaler but the exact chemical identification number (CAS#) can remain secret along with the amounts of chemicals used.  

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