Fracking fluid formulas are often treated as trade secrets, but British Columbia (B.C.) is leading the way in demanding disclosure, says a Toronto-based environmental lawyer.
Willms and Shier environmental lawyer John Georgakopoulos led a talk on the regulatory aspects of fracking in Canada on November 8, 2012 at the 2ndInternational Sites and Spills Expo in Toronto.
“The chemical element is often proprietary and considered trade secrets,” said Georgakopoulos, who previously worked as a scientist for six years with the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Environment Canada.
Despite the secretive nature of companies when it comes to fracking fluid formulas, Georgakopoulos said 70 to 90 per cent of the fracking fluids are water, and 10 to 20 per cent are sand. Additives constitute about one per cent of the fluid, with a minute portion of unknown components in the mixture as well.
In the U.S., fracking fluid has been shown to contain toxins such as benzene and lead.
“There’s concern abound around the contents of the hydraulic fracking fluid,” Georgakopoulos said.
Through wells that extend thousands of metres below ground level, fracking injects a high-pressure fluid mixture into shale rocks, bursting them to extract oil and natural gas.
Since January 2012, the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission has required operators to disclose fracking fluid components on the website fracfocus.com 30 days after the completion of a project.The website is patterned after a similar online fracking fluid disclosure database in the U.S. called fracfocus.org.
According to the B.C. government, the 30-day timeline is based on the point in time when a well is able to produce gas.
At an oil conference in Fort Nelson in September of 2011, B.C. Premier Christy Clark promised to create the reporting website amid growing controversy over possible ground and water contamination from the fracking fluid mixtures.
Companies must disclose the chemical abstract service number for each chemical additive used in their fracking fluid, the maximum ingredient concentration in the additive and the maximum ingredient concentration in the fracking fluid.
“B.C. is the only Canadian jurisdiction with the online reporting of the fracking fluid. It is one of the leaders in terms of disclosure,” Georgakopoulos said.
Alberta has 167,000 wells that have been fracked over the past 60 years, but companies do not have to make the components of their fracking fluid public. They do, however, have to report their fracking fluids to the province’s Energy Resources Conservation Board.
While critics have suggested that provincial governments have left industry to self-regulate, Georgakopoulos said the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) has taken some initiative. (Read a related article from the June 2011edition of EcoLog’s EHScompliance.ca.)
In September of 2011, the association introduced guiding principles for hydraulic fracturing, and followed up in January of 2012 with new operating practices.
These practices obligate CAPP members to ensure sound wellbore construction, seek fresh water alternatives, recycle where feasible, report water use voluntarily, disclose fracturing fluid, pursue technical advancement and collaboration, and ensure fluid transport, handling, storage and disposal.
Georgakopoulos said practices in B.C. will likely set the standard for new regulatory requirements regarding fracking and fracking fluids disclosure.
Fracking-specific regulations are virtually non-existent right across Canada, Georgakopoulos said.