WHEELING - Mike McCown and Kathryn Klaber said if Jeff Kessler wants to know what chemicals are used for natural gas fracking, all he has to do is look on the Internet.
Kessler, acting West Virginia Senate president, D-Marshall, is calling for a law requiring Marcellus Shale drillers to disclose the chemical solutions they use to "complete" their wells, which is how industry leaders formally refer to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The process calls for drillers to pump millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals deep into the earth at high pressure to break the rock to release the gas.
"People have the right to know what is being put in the ground and potentially in the water," said Kessler, whose home county of Marshall has seen much of the local drilling activity. "I'm not asking companies to disclose anything proprietary about the exact amount or makeup, just the ingredients."
Many drillers now post the contents of their fracking solutions online, noting about 99.5 percent of the solution consists of water and sand. Some gas companies provide their own solutions, while others rely on fracfocus.org.
However, if even 0.5 percent of the 5 million gallons of water, sand and chemical solution used to frack a typical well consists of chemicals, that means 25,000 gallons of chemicals are being pumped into the ground at pressure as high as 10,000 pounds per square inch.
A joint West Virginia Senate-House select committee was recently appointed to study Marcellus Shale regulation. Sen. Douglas Facemire, D-Braxton, chairs the select committee and agrees with Kessler.
"West Virginians have voiced legitimate concerns over this issue, and we intend to honor their request for disclosure," said Facemire. "It is not only our goal, but our responsibility to foster this industry in the most environmentally safe manner possible."
However, McCown, president of the West Virginia Independent Oil & Gas Association and vice president of Gastar Exploration, said no additional disclosure requirements are needed.
"The bottom line is natural gas operators and fracturing companies already disclose the chemicals used in frack fluids, and legislation to require companies to disclose the information is unnecessary," he said. "The chemicals used in fracturing fluid consist of friction reducers that decrease the hydraulic horsepower required to pump the fluid/sand mixture, biocides that prevent bacteria formation in the well and rock, and scale inhibitors that prevent scale that impedes flow.
"Without fracturing, the wells will not produce," McCown added.
Klaber, president of the Canonsburg, Pa.-based Marcellus Shale Coalition, also directed those seeking information about fracking to fracfocus.org.
"Transparency is a key tenant of our industry's Guiding Principles, which is why we absolutely support common sense disclosure measures," Klaber said. "Put simply, states continue to demonstrate that they are best situated to effectively regulate hydraulic fracturing, a technology that's been safely used in the United States since the Truman administration and one that is helping to put thousands of Americans to work."
Chesapeake Energy spokeswoman Jacque Bland also cited fracfocus.org as a source of information, as well as the Chesapeake website. Consol Energy spokeswoman Lynn Seay said her company provides on its website, adding, "Senator Kessler has been a longtime advocate for enabling our natural resources both gas and coal - in an environmentally responsible manner."
Among the fracking chemicals found on fracfocus.org include a substance called tetramethyl ammonium chloride. According to Occupational Safety and Health Administration Material Safety Data Sheets, this chemical "may be fatal is swallowed, inhaled or absorbed."
Acetaldehyde is listed as being harmful and a possible carcinogen. Thioglycolic acid is also harmful, according to the MSDS.
Two-butoxyethanol is listed as a narcotic and respiratory irritant that may cause kidney or liver damage.