If you really want to know what chemicals energy companies are using in hydraulic fracturing, the best way to find out may be to simply ask the companies. That's the new strategy of the Environmental Protection Agency.
In the latest meetings between the EPA and nine different natural gas companies, including Halliburton Co. and Schlumberger Ltd, the EPA simply requested that the companies volunteer information about the practice.
Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” as many call it, is a controversial technique used for accessing natural gas from underground reserves. To access these untapped reserves, fluids containing chemicals are pumped underground with immense pressure. This fractures underground rock and shale formations allowing access to natural gas, which is then captured and sold to John and Jane Q. Consumer.
But, thanks to some loopholes provided by old friend and former Vice President Dick Cheney, the chemicals used to create the fracturing are protected for commercial purposes. Just like the secret formula for Coca-Cola, the sauce on a Big Mac, and whatever makes Joe Biden’s teeth so shinny, the chemical make-up of the fracturing formula is a mystery.
Many residents who live near fracking sites have grown concerned about what is taking place below the land they own. Those who allowed energy companies to frack below them are being compensated by natural gas companies, but tales of flammable tap water and weird sicknesses are more than the landowners had bargained for.
Because of these concerns, the EPA is using all of its constitutional “asking power” to request that the chemical composition of the fracking fluids be revealed and that all data on those chemicals' effects on human health and the environment be revealed. The EPA also wants to know about the basic procedures used by companies at hydraulic fracturing sites. Lastly, the EPA is requesting the locations of sites where fracturing has been conducted.
That this information is still unknown is somewhat mind-blowing. And, while local regulators are said to have an “idea" of the chemical’s composition, public health concerns seem to be continually trumped by the commercially sensitive interests of the energy companies.
To the EPA’s credit, The Wall Street Journal reports that if companies don’t volunteer information, the agency will “use its authorities to require the information needed to carry out its study." In coming days the EPA will be holding more public comment sessions about fracking, which will be followed by an official report on the practice.
But the real story will be if energy companies do, in fact, volunteer this information. If successful, this could set the course for a new means of obtaining information for the United States government: asking. Next, we'll simply ask Osama Bin Laden where he is. Then we can ask BP what really caused the Gulf oil spill. The savings created by eliminating the CIA, FBI, Department of Homeland Security and all those congressional oil hearings will allow the government to buy everyone a hybrid car — and Biden’s secret tooth-shining ingredient.
All we had to do was ask.
Learn more on MNN: Is hydraulic fracturing safe?