Natural gas extraction method may be subject to more rules

There's a move in Congress to impose tighter regulations on a key process used to recover natural gas in the Barnett Shale.

Hydraulic fracturing uses a mix of water, sand and chemicals to create tiny cracks in the rock and release the gas. But it's been under fire for years from environmentalists who question whether the chemicals are safe.

Barnett Shale drillers said they rely less on gels and other chemicals and more on "slick water" — a mixture of water, sand and surfactants that are similar to those in soap and make the water easier to pump.

Any chemicals they do use — more than 50 compounds are listed in Fort Worth's records — are a tiny percentage of the millions of gallons used in each well and are largely flushed out of the ground, drillers say.

And many of those chemicals — like sodium bicarbonate, or ordinary baking soda — are benign.

But others are potentially deadly, and disclosure requirements are lax, environmentalists say. What's more, even the small percentage used in wells amounts to thousands of gallons of potential contaminants, environmentalists say. Once the chemicals are used, they must be disposed of.

A bill by U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., would require companies to disclose the drilling chemicals they use and would subject them to the federal Clean Water Act.

The stakes are high because gas drilling is beginning to push into neighborhoods, near parks and next to water reservoirs in Tarrant County.

"The challenge all communities face is trying to figure out what's going into their air and water, what's going into their soil," said Jennifer Goldman, a researcher with the Oil and Gas Accountability Project.

Industry officials worry, too.

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