Last summer, as the Dallas City Council was briefed on the ins and outs of bringing heavy, industrial processes into a densely populated, urban area, industry boosters like Ed Ireland of the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council assured council members we would know in virtually all cases what was being injected underground to hydraulically fracture oil and gas wells.
After all, the new disclosure law, passed last year by the Texas Legislature, required it. Susan Ames Jones, then-chairperson of the Railroad Commission of Texas, said, "Texans can be assured they will know more about what is going into the ground for fracturing than what goes into a can of soda." All one must do is visit the industry-maintained website, FracFocus.org.
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But the bill's co-author, Representative Lon Burnam of Fort Worth, isn't so sure. So-called "trade-secret exemptions" the industry successfully lobbied for allow it to withhold ingredients and concentrations it considers intellectual property. "This disclosure bill has a hole big enough to drive a Mack truck through," Burnam told Bloomberg News.
Its analysis of chemical disclosure reports reveals Texas frackers claimed exemptions some 19,000 times through August this year. Put another way: Each oil or natural gas well was fracked with at least seven secret ingredients, all but defeating the entire purpose of the disclosure law. Some well operators didn't bother to explain why. That's an extra step that even driller-friendly Wyoming requires. Only a couple of months ago, a U.S. Geological Survey test of groundwater in Pavillion, Wyoming, corroborated EPA's finding of diesel compounds and other chemicals associated with fracking.
Fatally flawed though the Texas disclosure law is, its doppelganger is making the rounds. The American Legislative Exchange Council -- the shadowy group that connects lawmakers with corporation-authored legislation and money -- is most recently infamous for hustling "Stand Your Ground" and voter ID laws. It's pushing model legislation nearly identical to Texas', sponsored by Irving-based ExxonMobil, the country's biggest fracker.
The industry has begged for our confidence. Yet abusing exemptions in watered-down legislation is no way to gain it. At the very least, it should give the Dallas City Council pause. Is the industry simply protecting trade secrets, or hiding something potentially dangerous?