The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Fracking: Transparently Safe

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted March 28, 2014

Safe and responsible development of America’s vast oil and natural gas reserves located in shale and other tight-rock formations created the U.S. energy revolution, which continues to this day. Thanks to advanced hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, the U.S. is an energy superpower. The numbers on shale energy, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA):

  • 3.5 million barrels per day of oil production – 45 percent of the U.S. total
  • 40 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas production – 60 percent of the U.S. total

EIA projects the percentage of U.S. oil and natural gas developed with hydraulic fracturing will increase. As oil production nears the all-time high of 9.6 million barrels per day in the next couple of years, more than 50 percent of it will come from shale or other tight formations through fracking, EIA says. By 2040, more than 70 percent of U.S. natural gas will come from shale.

This energy surge is creating jobs, expanding economies at the local, regional and national level and strengthening the United States’ position in the world. This is the new reality of growing U.S. energy security, the impacts of which Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, noted in recent congressional testimony:

“An energy independent [U.S.] and net exporter of energy as a nation has the potential to change the security environment around the world – notably in Europe and in the Middle East.  And so, as we look at our strategies for the future, I think we’ve got to pay more and particular attention to energy as an instrument of national power.  And because it will very soon in the next few years potentially become one of our more prominent tools.”

The foundation for this new era of American energy abundance safe shale development, measured in 65 years of commercial fracking. Without question, earning the embrace of communities where energy development is occurring is an essential industry effort, one that is helped by fact-based conversation and industry transparency.

fracfocusThe three-year-old FracFocus chemical disclosure registry is integral to that transparency and ensuring the public’s confidence in industry operations. FracFocus 2.0 is the new-and-improved update of the original. It serves as the main hydraulic fracturing disclosure mechanism in at least 17 states – states that produced more than 68 percent of the crude oil and nearly 67 percent of the natural gas in the U.S. last year. FracFocus particulars:

  • Information on more than 68,300 oil and natural gas wells since 2011
  • 821 individual companies participating, including 615 reporting companies that have disclosed information the past three years

A task force of the Energy Department (DOE) is reviewing the site, and recently API joined America’s Natural Gas Alliance, the Independent Petroleum Association of America and the American Exploration & Production Council in supplying comments on the review. Much of the discussion centers on fluids used in hydraulic fracturing. The industry groups write:

The Associations strongly support and promote full disclosure of chemical ingredients intentionally added to hydraulic fracturing fluids, with recognition of legitimate claims for protection of intellectual property under applicable laws. … The Associations share the (DOE) Task Force’s interest in highly transparent and detailed disclosure of the constituents of hydraulic fracturing fluid.

Fracking fluid contains 99.2 percent water and sand and 0.79 percent chemical additives – which reduce friction and prevent biofouling of the fractures and corrosion in the well’s metal pipes. FracFocus’ chart:

ff_fluid

The industry groups:

The oil and gas industry recognizes and understands the public concern over hydraulic fracturing fluid disclosure and has made meaningful and concrete steps to address those concerns. … (Public concern is) focused on the portion of hydraulic fracturing fluid (usually less than 1% of the overall fluid system) that consists of additives formulated to improve the performance of the hydraulic fracturing operation by, for example, reducing friction so less pumping horsepower is required, and preventing corrosion and scale buildup inside the well casing. It should also be noted that these particular additives entail important environmental co-benefits, (such as) reducing energy use and air emissions by requiring less pumping, and protecting underground sources of drinking water from potential hydrocarbon migration through a corroded well casing. The substances that are most commonly found in this fraction of hydraulic fracturing fluid systems are also commonly found in food, cosmetics, detergents, and other household products.

Specific points by the industry groups on disclosure:

  • Information on chemical additives in fracking fluids is extensively disclosed to the public and regulators in states where hydraulic fracturing is widely used.
  • Though companies protect as proprietary certain constituents in their fracking fluids, they are commonly protecting specific ingredients within additives representing a fraction of a percent of the total fracking fluid.
  • Even in cases where exact chemical identification isn’t publicly released, industry typically provides chemical category information that allows the public to identify the class and function of the chemical.
  • Precise identity of these ingredients is required by states to be disclosed to regulators – and, if necessary, to physicians and emergency responders.
  • Trade secret laws are designed to protect technological and commercial information from unauthorized use by others. Hydraulic fracturing is highly technical, and service companies that conduct fracking are heavily invested in terms of time, money and effort in developing the processes and materials that optimize the effectiveness of the work they perform.
  • Trade secret laws have existed at the federal and state levels for four decades and are subject to multiple checks on abuse.

The industry groups:

Companies in a variety of industries avail themselves of the benefits of trade secret protection for exactly the same reasons as oil and gas service companies. Some of the most famous examples are Coca-Cola’s secret formula, Google’s search algorithm, the herbs and spices in KFC’s fried chicken, and the composition of WD-40. The rationale for trade secret protection sought by the oil and gas industry is no different from that for proprietary information that is routinely protected by businesses in other industries.

Hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling have made America’s shale energy revolution possible. Fracking is safe, and industry is continually developing improvements to increase safety, efficiency and productivity while reducing its footprint in areas where it operates. At the same time, energy development depends on community buy-in, fostered by industry professionalism, two-way communication and timely, relevant information about its activities. FracFocus 2.0 is an essential tool in that effort. The industry groups:

We are proud of the success of FracFocus, proud of the transparency efforts we have voluntarily undertaken, and believe our efforts measure quite favorably against any existing occupational health and safety reporting requirement, and against the reporting requirements for, and trade secret use of, all other industries.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.