One of the most contentious questions about hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is what companies should be required to disclose about the mix of water and chemicals pumped into the ground during the process.
Governments, environmentalists, and people who live in drilling areas usually want to know what chemicals are being put into the ground, while companies don’t want to disclose any more than they have to, often due to competitive concerns. So, the state's Mining and Energy Commission had drafted a compromise:
"The rule that we had would have required the disclosure of trade secreted information to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, but the department would have protected its confidentiality," says Charlotte Mitchell, a commissioner appointed by former Democratic Governor Bev Perdue.
Mitchell says it would have been one of the strongest fracking disclosure rules in the country. It was slated for a final vote Friday morning after months of debate, but on Thursday, commission chairman Jim Womack, announced he wanted to change the rule, after talking with officials from drilling company Halliburton.
"The interested industry partners who would be providing additives or fracturing fluids had offered some new options that we didn’t know about," says Womack.
Womack’s proposing a new rule, which wouldn’t require confidentiality agreements, and he says would be simpler. Instead, the company would have to name every ingredient in the fracking fluid, but not the levels—so competitors can’t recreate the recipe. Jim Rossabi, a vice president at the soil and groundwater cleanup company Redox Tech, says the ingredient list is primary.
"You need to know what was in the original mix. I’m not so sure that you need to know the proportions, per se," Rossabi says.
But, Rossabi also points out that the government routinely holds on to companies’ confidential, proprietary information. Whether the rule changes or not, it’s going to cause some delays, while the commission considers it. But it’s not clear how much—it could even mean starting over completely.