North Carolina’s state legislature is considering a bill that would make it a felony for anyone to disclose the chemical compounds used in hydraulic fracturing or hydrofracking, and critics of the measure say they worry that emergency first responders could get caught in the crossfire.
The Energy Modernization Act would establish disclosure of fracking “trade secrets” as a class 1 felony, according to a report by Mother Jones. The bill also establishes North Carolina’s state geologist as the entity in charge of fracking chemical information and aims to ease the disclosure process, vital for first responders in the case of a spill or human exposure.
To that end, the bill would allow the state to immediately supply first responders with the necessary information. There is a drawback, however; medical personnel, fire chiefs, and other first responders could be required by the law to sign confidentiality agreements if they receive any proprietary information in the course of their duties.
The bill also preempts local ordinances passed in relation to fracking, stopping local communities from passing any laws that would limit or control the practice. As previously reported by The Inquisitr, questions about local authority have long been tied to the debate over fracking. A similar measure, called 2013 Annual Act 13, was successfully challenged in the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court, which ruled in December that such preemptive measures violated the Environmental Rights Amendment of the state constitution, according to StateImpact.
According to the American Petroleum Institute, fracking fluid is more than 99% water and sand by volume, though it also contains a variety of chemicals. Those chemical mixtures are proprietary to each company, and as such, are regarded by many in the industry as trade secrets.
EnergyWire notes that while energy companies wish to protect multimillion dollar investments in developing proprietary chemical blends, landowners and environmental groups argue that they cannot determine if water tables have been contaminated by fracking without knowing what chemicals are being pumped into the ground.
The law runs counter to current trends in the natural gas industry, which have tended toward disclosure despite the argument over trade secrets. Several states, such as Texas and Pennsylvania, require drillers to post a full list of chemicals used to FracFocus, a website operated by trade groups in the industry. Some corporations are getting ahead of legislation with voluntary disclosure: According to the Wall Street Journal, Baker Hughes Inc., a major oil field service company, announced in April that it will fully disclose the list of chemicals it utilizes in fracking operations.
[Image via Mother Jones]