Raleigh, N.C. — Many of the chemicals that gas drilling operations pump into the ground are kept secret, but a state advisory panel said Tuesday that North Carolina should require companies to reveal more about their drilling efforts to the public.
The "stakeholders group," made up of state and local leaders, environmentalists and representatives of the energy industry, said the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources hasn't gone far enough in disclosure rules proposed for hydraulic fracturing.
The drilling process, also known as "fracking," involves pumping a high-pressure mix of water, chemicals and sand into wells to break apart underground deposits of shale and free the natural gas trapped in the rock.
The group said drilling reports should be online in a searchable database, while DENR's proposed rule requires a paper report to be filed with the state.
"The idea of having a disclosure policy is so the public can have access to the information and know what it is that's happening in their communities," said David Kelly, of the Environmental Defense Fund. "So, having it in a hard copy in some file drawer in DENR is great, but we really want the public to be able to access that information."
The panel also recommended that the state require drill operators to tell regulators in advance what chemicals they plan to use, with a follow-up report 30 days later. DENR's proposed rule would require a report 60 days after drilling, a time frame that even industry representatives say is too long.
"They would have made the decision while the treatment was going on what kind of chemicals were being used," said Hope Taylor, executive director of Clean Water for North Carolina. "So, at the completion of treatment, they should be able to get that information to the agency and have it available immediately."
Under DENR's proposed rules, not even state regulators would know exactly what's being pumped into the ground because drilling operators wouldn't have to disclose certain chemical formulas that are considered proprietary.
"It seems to me that that is essentially putting economic interests ahead of the public interest, the public right to know," Taylor said.
Kelly said most states where fracking is permitted do make allowances for trade secrets.
"The real question is, how do we balance the needs of that business model with the need to protect the public?" he said.
The advisory board's recommendations will go to the Mining and Energy Commission's Environmental Rules committee, which can choose to incorporate them or ignore them. The committee meets Thursday afternoon at the Archdale Building in Raleigh. The full commission meets Friday morning.