BC’s Requirements For Disclosing Fracking Chemicals

Despite the problems, Dr Allan Hoffman (a retired senior executive from the US Department of Energy) believes there is simply too much money invested in the fracking revolution to stop it. With proper regulation and enforcement, he believes it is possible to reduce the number of incidents to an acceptable level. If this statement seems jarring, remember everyone who drives a car is taking an acceptable risk whenever they get behind the wheel. So what are BC’s Requirements For Disclosing Fracking Chemicals?

Questions For The BC Oil & Gas Commission

The following questions were inspired by one of Earthjustice’s cases in Wyoming, where the requirements for using the “trade secret” loophole have been tightened. Here are my questions for the BC Oil & Gas Commission and their answers:

Question 1: Are companies in BC allowed to withhold the identity of chemicals used while fracking because they are “trade secrets?

Spokesperson: Chemical disclosure is federally regulated. Under the Hazardous Products Act, if the information is considered to be confidential business information, a supplier may claim an exemption from the requirement to disclose that information under the Hazardous Material Information Review Act. A Material Safety Data Sheet must still disclose the chemical family name and all necessary chemical and medical information. All ingredients from a trade secret product are submitted and known by Health Canada. For more information see the FAQs on Fracfocus

Question 2: If so, how extensive is the proof companies fracking in BC have to provide to establish that chemicals are “trade secrets” and is this documentation available to the public?

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Question 3: I know that the province uses FracFocus. This statement is actually a paraphrased version of what the Earthjustice lawyer said during our interview. “The usefulness of tools such as the website FracFocus depends on the transparency of the companies involved, the strength of state regulations and the ability of state agencies to enforce those regulations.” Does the Ministry agree with this statement?

Spokesperson: Those statements do not apply to B.C. Under the Oil and Gas Activities Act companies must submit ingredients of hydraulic fracturing fluids to the Fracfocus. The Commission ensures that submissions are made for wells hydraulically fractured. If a submission is not made, enforcement actions such as orders or penalties can be taken.

Question 4: In recent years, has BC required that companies provide additional information about the chemicals they use? 

Spokesperson: Since 2012 companies have been required to provide extensive information about ingredients, including: trade name, supplier, purpose, ingredients, Chemical Abstract Service Number, maximum ingredient concentration by additive (% by mass) and maximum ingredient concentration in fluid (% by mass).

Question 5: Does BC prohibit the use of any chemicals during fracking?

Spokesperson: There are no prohibitions of chemicals under legislation the Commission is responsible for. Other applicable contacts may be WorkSafeBC and the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission.

Question 6: If so, how does the province ensure its regulations are carried out?

Spokesperson: Companies in B.C. are required to follow regulations. The Commission reviews all Fracfocus submissions, and has a robust compliance and enforcement framework to address non-compliance. Companies can be subject to orders or administrative penalties for not following the rules.

Oil & Gas Commission’s Answers Are Better

Fort St John, in the heart of BC's natural gas region. Photo by waferboard via Fllickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)
Fort St John, in the heart of BC’s natural gas region. Photo by waferboard via Fllickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)

The BC Oil & Gas Commission’s answers are better than when I gave the province a “conditional F” because it does not require groundwater monitoring. According to Amanda Frank, Policy Analyst for the Center for Effective Government, it is difficult to prove fracking (and the associated pipes, seals, fracking wells ect) are responsible for contamination incidents if you aren’t monitoring groundwater near the wells. This calls the validity of BC’ claim that there are no proven incidents into question.

BC’s requirements for registering chemicals sounds better though, given that there are no prohibitions (question 5, above), we need to find out if any of the chemicals in use are banned in other provinces/states.

It is also necessary to find out how well BC is enforcing the regulations it has.

Spokesperson: The appropriate agency in this regard is the federal Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission, which is responsible for the Hazardous Material Information Review Act. More information can be found on their website.

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Top Photo Credit: (appears to be from the Eastern US) “Oily Water in the woods near my dad’s house there is a large spring. it now looks as if it has oil in it. rainbow colors and beads of non water soluble liquid. compared to the one on dad’s property everything looks the same, minus we don’t have the oil stuff. the spring in the woods is not located far from a well, i don’t know where the pad is” by Mark via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)

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