A handful of speakers showed up Wednesday at a Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC) hearing to comment on a rule for hydraulic fracturing (fracking) fluid disclosure that the RRC is working to enact by the end of the year. Nearly everyone expressed support for the proposed rule and the commissioners' work.
"The combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing is a solution, not a problem, and we are going to keep it that way," RRC Chair Elizabeth Ames Jones said at the meeting's start. "It's a catalyst for job creation and prosperity all across this state...Good environmental stewardship and preventing waste of natural gas are not mutually exclusive."
Rice University chemistry professor Andrew Barron, who has been researching the use of lightweight ceramic proppants, praised the rule and said it provides for stricter disclosure of fracking fluid contents than rules applying to the contents of soft drinks. He also pointed out that a common fracking fluid ingredient called guar gum is widely used in the food industry.
"Often when people understand what chemicals are, they know that they're used in other ares," Barron told commissioners.
The rule to implement HB 3328, which was passed during the state's last regular legislative session and signed by the governor, was published in the Texas Register on Sept. 9 (see Shale Daily, Aug. 30). During the legislative session an analysis of HB 3328 found that it "could create the nation's strongest hydraulic fracturing fluid disclosure regime, thus earning the support of several environmental groups and the backing of many in industry because the legislation provides certain limited trade secret protections that will allow operators and service providers to protect their intellectual property."
On Wednesday Cyrus Reed, conservation director with the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, said overall the group is pleased with the proposed rule. "We were particularly pleased that you're moving ahead fast with this," he told commissioners. "We like the fact that you're keeping the focus on the fracfocus [fluid disclosure website] because people already know about it."
David Weinberg, executive director of the Texas League of Conservation Voters, said, "Generally speaking, the rule is a good one." He urged commissioners to not weaken the rule by making it easier for companies to claim trade secret status for fracking fluid chemicals.
The oil and gas industry was represented at the hearing by the Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners, the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers and the Texas Oil and Gas Association; speakers from each group spoke favorably of the proposed rule.
However, Kathryn Baecht, secretary of Citizens Organizing for Resources and Environment, derided the practice of hydraulic fracturing in light of the drought that has gripped Texas. "The fact that we are taking millions of gallons [of water] out of the hydraulic cycle is a crime," she said. "I think it's really, really wrong."
Baecht's water well accesses the Trinity Aquifer, which also is a source of fracking water for producers.
She said the proposed fracking fluid disclosure rule is "a step toward disclosure." However, "I think the rules are actually fairly weak. I think the trade secret loophole is pretty big."
The comment period for the rulemaking ends at noon Tuesday. RRC staff will likely present draft rules to the commission next month for adoption, which would take effect 20 days later.