Nebraska could be the next state that requires oil and gas drilling companies to disclose the chemicals used in their hydraulic fracturing operations, after it was announced that the state Oil and Gas Conservation Commission was working on new regulation.
According to the Journal Star, the Commission was developing a new rule that would force companies that use the technology known as fracking to register all chemicals that they use in the liquid injected underground to crack open rock formations and to extract the gas and oil from within. The companies will have to submit this information to a website called FracFocus.org, which would then make it available to the public.
Although the fracking technique has been around for many years, it became popular in certain parts of the world and more specifically in the United States in the past decade. This has resulted in a dramatic increase in production of oil and natural gas in a number of states, such as North Dakota and Pennsylvania. However, fracking has also been heavily criticized by environmental groups and residents who have raised concerns over the potential pollution of water, air and soil. They also fear that the technique may be contributing to earthquakes. A dozen states have already mandated fracking chemicals disclosure and Nebraska is one of eight more that are currently considering the move.
In Nebraska, the technology is yet to become widespread. The state is believed to have abundant oil and gas reserves in certain parts of the Niobrara shale and in chalk formations in along the border with Wyoming and Colorado, but so far there has been little drilling and hardly any big discoveries, the Journal Star reported. According to Bill Sydow, director of the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, each year there are about a dozen fracking wells drilled in Nebraska and there have been no groundwater contamination incidents related to fracking operations. Similarly, the public reaction has not been particularly negative, he added. However, Sydow claimed that the state Oil and Gas Conservation Commissioners believed it was of critical importance to ensure that the industry is transparent.
Several months ago, Sydow testified against a bill in the Legislature that would have made fracking chemical disclosure mandatory. He explained that his actions were motivated by his belief that the bill was not necessary, since the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission was already able to require such disclosure.
Ken Winston, policy advocate for the Nebraska Sierra Club, welcomed the news that rules regarding fracking chemical disclosure in the state were in the works but said that he would have selected another government agency be in charge of this, such as the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, if he had the choice. He explained that the group had concerns about the use of the FracFocus website, as it appeared to be "an industry-funded organization," he said.
The website was launched two years ago and is partly funded by the oil and gas industry and other private groups, but it is also financed by the U.S. Department of Energy, the Journal Star reported.