No secrecy on fracking

June 26, 2013 

Now here’s a curiosity indeed. A state Senate committee suddenly rushes through a bill to allow shale gas drilling companies that engage in fracking in North Carolina to do so without disclosing the chemicals they use in the process. And this happens without the knowledge of the chairman of the state Mining & Energy Commission. James Womack, who’s supposed to have that knowledge and a little bit of a say too boot, says he was “blindsided” by the maneuver.

Molly Diggins, director of the state Sierra Club, sees a more sinister thing going on, an attempt by the industry to stand in the way of any rule that might require full disclosure of the chemicals used.

Fracking is a process where companies seek to release natural gas deposits trapped in deep shale rock formations. The companies blast the rock with high pressure injections of a combination of water, sand and chemicals. Environmentalists are understandably concerned about what the consequences of the process might be. Others have questioned the wisdom of fracking at a time when there is no shortage of natural gas.

But this industry is not shy about doing a little political arm-twisting. That’s the kind of thing that can cause a provision such as this one allowing secrecy to appear quickly.

Curiosities about this include why the secrecy, given the risks. The public has a right to know. And isn’t it a stretch to suggest that competing companies don’t know what chemicals are being used in the process? If these are trade secrets, they don’t seem like very deep secrets.

Fracking needs full scrutiny and that includes the full disclosure of what chemicals are being used. Will the chemicals put surrounding areas at risk? How long will they remain in the ground? What effect might they have on surface areas? What kinds of safety steps have been taken and what sort of approval process are these chemicals subject to before they are used? Let’s have these questions answered in the open, with public and professional scrutiny of the chemicals used in fracking.

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