Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Crack in the Dam of Fracking Secrecy

Nobody likes to tell their secrets.  But Range Resources has announced that it will disclose the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing in its Marcellus Shale operations.  Range is one of the biggest Marcellus operators and the company's CEO John Pinkerton has said in the past that he favors disclosure of the fracking chemicals.  I look forward to the first disclosures and the reactions on both sides of the fracking debate.  I wonder exactly how wide the proverbial kimono will be opened.  I am also eager to see if any of Range's peers follow the company into the bright light of disclosure.

I'm all for the disclosure of these chemicals.  It will shed light on exactly how much of the most controversial chemicals are actually part of the mix.  There are folks running around the country making outrageous false claims about the components of fracking fluid.  Hopefully this will lead to greater understanding by the public. 

But the sun shines both ways.  Disclosing the chemical secret sauce will show that some unpleasant chemicals are used in the fracking process, albeit in small quantities.  But disclosure should accelerate the process of replacing some of the more controversial chemicals with more environmentally friendly substitutes.  That would be a win-win.

To me Range's action is indirect fallout from the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  The realization that the spill likely is the result of the BP's poor practices has emboldened foes of the natural resources industries.  Companies and industry groups that bury their heads in the sand and dig in for a fight only make things worse.  Expect more regulation at the federal and state levels and more resistance from grass roots (or AstroTurf) organizations. 

Right now the natural gas industry is guilty until proven innocent (or at least not guilty).  Hopefully Range's actions are a step towards clearing the industry's name.

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