On Feb. 1, Texas will become the latest state to require the public disclosure of all chemicals used in the controversial natural gas extraction process known as "fracking."
The measure, viewed by critics as a small victory in the fight against what they consider a dangerous practice that threatens drinking-water supplies, will force drilling firms to post their fracking mixtures on the website fracfocus.org, an online data collection site overseen by the Ground Water Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission.
Louisiana, North Dakota, Colorado and Montana already require such disclosures, and opponents of fracking - the use of water, sand and chemicals to crack underground rock and allow natural gas to flow freely and be captured for human use - want to see similar legislation enacted at the federal level.
More than 30 U.S. House Democrats and several senators have signed on to the "Frac Act," which would establish a federal mandate that all substances be posted to the Internet. Supporters of the bill hope that, eventually, Republicans will cave to public pressure and endorse it.
"We need a federal law. It's only a matter of time before we see full disclosure. The public won't accept anything less," said Gwen Lachelt, director of the Oil and Gas Accountability Project, an advocacy group pushing the Frac Act and other legislation aimed at further regulating the natural gas business.
"The pendulum is swinging toward full disclosure because of the high profile of fracking," she said. "It's a worldwide environmental issue now."
Ms. Lachelt and other critics point to the recent water contamination case in the small town of Pavillion, Wyo., where fracking chemicals have been blamed for polluting local water supplies. The Environmental Protection Agency, which issued a report indicting the process, is expected to commission an independent, third-party review of its findings.
Industry leaders have disputed the EPA study, and believe the Pavillion case is yet another example of the Obama administration joining with environmental groups to demonize fracking and promote public unease about the process, which has helped revitalize small-town economies in Pennsylvania and elsewhere and led to the creation of thousands of jobs.
In the past, many natural gas companies had resisted public disclosure laws because they viewed their chemical mixtures as trade secrets, and feared competing firms would simply copy the most effective formulas. That resistance helped fuel critics' arguments that fracking fluids are threats to clean water.
But in recent years, the industry's attitude has changed. Many companies now voluntarily post their chemical cocktails on fracfocus.org, including the member firms of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, a group of operators drilling in one of the largest known gas reserves in the world in Pennsylvania and surrounding states.
At its annual conference in October, the group voted to disclose all chemicals that member companies use to drill in the Marcellus. As a result, fracfocus.org now includes a detailed breakdown of all fluids used at each well site in the region, including an explanation of why each chemical is used. In almost all cases, at least 99 percent of the fracking formula is made up of water and sand, with the remainder a variety of fluids used as, for example, antibacterial agents.
Many other firms outside the Marcellus Shale area also have released their additives before being required to do so by state governments.
Despite those voluntary steps, many in the industry expect the public relations battle to continue, and think even a federal disclosure law wouldn't be enough for critics.
"I don't think anything is going to satisfy them, other than an outright ban on the oil and natural gas industry's ability to drill in the United States," said Alex Mills, president of the Texas Energy Alliance, the largest state oil and gas association in the nation with more than 3,350 members.
Mr. Mills said the alliance played a key role in drafting the Texas law. He called the disclosure act "a good idea," and stressed that, in Texas, only about 5/10ths of 1 percent of the fracking mixture is made up of chemicals.
"The chemicals in your swimming pool are more harmful than what's used in a frack job," Mr. Mills said.
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