Thursday, November 12, 2009

IPPA: Dig Your Head in the Sand...Deeper

I was taken aback by comments Bruce Vincent, Chairman of the Independent Petroleum Producers Association (IPPA), at a recent luncheon in Houston that the contents of the drilling fluids involved in hydraulic fracturing should not be disclosed. He is concerned that disclosing the chemicals would violate trade secrets of fluid providers and that disclosure would lead to a slippery slope towards more government oversight.

I've got a problem with that. First, the natural gas industry contends that the chemicals in question are a very small component of the overall contents of the frac fluid, approximately 0.6% or less. If you inject, for example, three million gallons of fluid into the well, you’re talking about 18,000 gallons of chemicals. The industry contends that the chemicals are for things like lubrication and corrosion prevention and are as safe as the chemicals you might find below your kitchen sink. I moved the chemicals below my sink to a shelf high in the pantry when I had kids, so that’s not helpful guidance.

Second, if you refuse to disclose the contents of what you describe as a miniscule component of your secret sauce, it makes it look like you're hiding something. The more recalcitrant you are, the guiltier you look. Playing the tough guy doesn't work in this new information society. This is not a court of law.  In the court of public opinion, you are guilty until you prove yourself innocent. 

Just look how resistance to drilling in the Marcellus Shale has grown exponentially over the past couple of months since a fish kill in Dunkard Creek was erroneously attributed to gas drilling (I say "erroneously" because it is not fully understood what caused the kill, but it doesn’t look like the gas producer). These days, withholding information is considered the same as lying. You are guilty before being tried. Opposition grows overnight like Jack’s beanstalk and it is fed by misinformation from your opponents, over which you have no control. The Dunkard Creek incident is a cautionary tale of how fast resistance grows in the 21st century.

I fully support the use of fracking. As I've stated in the past, I think the issue is not what happens underground but rather what happens at the surface. How the fluids are handled before they are injected and after they come back up is of paramount importance. At the same time, however, I believe the surface environment must be protected at all costs. I hate to say it, but IT IS the government's job to protect all the people's rights, and that doesn’t start with turning a blind eye towards the environment to benefit business interests. E&P companies are businesses and as such have a responsibility to their owners (me, among them) to produce hydrocarbons from below the earth and make a good profit. It's not their jobs to protect the surface. It is in their best interests to protect surface uses, but it is up to the government to enforce the rights of those who are not their shareholders.

Believe me, I don't want to see the Frac Act or any other regulation of hydraulic fracturing. I own a piece of the golden goose, but I want her to keep producing eggs for the rest of my lifetime and for generations to come. Having the IPPA play the bad cop is not in my best interest because I want to balance what happens at the surface with what is produced from underground. Honesty is the first step to a better future for all of us. Digging your head deeper in the sand is a recipe for disaster.

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