Prove your humanity

Gov. Josh Shapiro says fracking companies will have to publicly report what chemicals they use for drilling.

He said the move, announced Friday, follows through on a recommendation from a grand jury Shapiro oversaw as Attorney General.

“As Attorney General and now as Governor, I have listened to Pennsylvanians concerned about their health and safety – and I am delivering on the promise I made to them to secure these protections,” Shapiro said. “We’re going to follow through on our commitment to ensure the health and safety of our communities while maintaining Pennsylvania’s proud energy legacy and our Commonwealth’s critical role in the nation’s energy economy.”

The move follows an agreement between the Shapiro administration and driller CNX Resources to voluntarily follow the grand jury recommendations and collect data at two new well sites. That agreement has been criticized by families affected by fracking, who say it doesn’t do enough to bring accountability to the industry.

It’s not clear how much new information will be made available with this policy.

Wells are fracked with a combination of water, sand, and chemical additives.

Drillers are already required to record which chemicals they use in Preparedness, Prevention, and Contingency plans made for each site. They had to turn those plans into the Department of Environmental Protection only if requested.

DEP said companies will now need to submit the plans before drilling and DEP will post the plans on its website. DEP said it started including this requirement in letters attached to unconventional well permits on Jan. 3.

Drillers are required to publicly report fracking activity, including chemicals used, online at FracFocus.org.

But what about ‘trade secrets’?

But, Pennsylvania law says drillers do not have to disclose chemical blends if they are considered proprietary or a trade secret.

DEP said Monday that operators need to disclose to the agency chemicals considered proprietary. However, a record that reveals a trade secret or confidential proprietary information is not subject to the public access requirements of the Right-to-Know Law.

The Marcellus Shale Coalition said its members have always valued transparency.

“The flawed grand jury report issued in 2020 claimed that it was time to ‘Stop the chemical coverup.’ As we said then and reiterate now: there never was a chemical coverup,” MSC President Dave Callahan said in a statement. “We welcome any efforts PA DEP undertakes to increase its own transparency on the data it receives from industry.”

Report: “Trade Secret” Chemicals Injected Nearly 11,000 Times at Oil and Gas Wells in Ohio

Environmental groups respond

In a joint statement, PennFuture and Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania called the new policy “sensible,” and “a step towards transparency for public health officials, medical researchers, and households throughout Pennsylvania.” But the groups said it does not help the communities already dealing with the negative effects of drilling.

“This win highlights the fact that the fracking industry will not act responsibly on its own, and that well-informed, health-protective public policies are necessary,” the groups said. “We urge the DEP to ensure the PPC plans posted on its website and the inventory of chemicals are easily accessible to the public. Pennsylvanians also deserve to know from DEP about the fossil fuel industry’s compliance with the directive.”

David Hess, a former DEP Secretary under Republican governors Tom Ridge and Mark Schweiker, said the new policy will be an improvement, but noted it only applies to the unconventional industry, known as fracking.

“The fact it deals only with unconventional wells is a worry because today conventional oil and gas well drillers routinely frack their wells with similar cocktails of chemicals and they drilled nearly 400 new wells in the last two years,” Hess said.

Also in the chemical disclosure announcement, Shapiro said he has directed DEP to pursue formal rulemaking and policy changes for the oil and gas industry. He’s asking for improved control of methane emissions aligned with the Environmental Protection Agency’s recently announced standards, stronger drilling waste protections, and corrosion protections for gathering lines that transport natural gas.

This story is produced in partnership with StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration among The Allegheny Front, WPSU, WITF and WHYY to cover the commonwealth's energy economy.