AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The Texas House on Wednesday approved what would be the nation's first law to require drilling companies to publicly disclose the contents of fluids used in hydraulic fracturing.
Dozens of companies pump fluid into shale formations to break up the rock in order to extract natural gas, a process known as fracking. Most companies presently keep the chemical composition of the fluid secret.
Under the bill approved Wednesday, natural gas drillers would have to report the content of the fluid to the Texas Railroad Commission. If the company believes the recipe is a trade secret, they can request that the commission keep the contents confidential. The attorney general would then decide if the claim of a trade secret is legitimate under the legislation.
The Republican-controlled House approved the measure on a voice vote. After one more procedural vote, the bill goes to the Senate for consideration.
Some landowners have expressed concern that hydraulic fracturing may contaminate groundwater with toxic chemicals, a contention that gas companies reject.
"This will make Texas the first start to require the public disclosure of the composition of the fluids used for hydraulic fracturing," said state Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Granbury. "Although there have been no cases of the process contaminating groundwater in Texas, the people say they want to know the contents of the fluid used in the process."
The Environmental Protection Agency recently shut down a hydraulic fracturing operation in North Texas out of concern that the groundwater was being contaminated. The Railroad Commission disputed that finding, insisting the drilling had nothing to do with the contamination.
The matter is still under investigation.
Cyrus Reed, the conservation director with the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, called the bill a good first step, but hoped for a stronger bill before it is finalized. The organization wants anyone to be allowed to challenge what fluids can be kept confidential as trade secrets.
"We hope the House and Senate will consider strengthening amendments to make the bill a true model bill for the nation," Reed said.