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Do you promise not to tell?

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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In the no-science-is-good-science (or is that good science is no science?) state of North Carolina, the Republican legislature has decided that some of the science we can do without is testing our water.

That’s for companies who want to use hydraulic fracturing — fracking — for natural gas, that is. Your average municipal water system has about a skillion EPA regulations, of course, and municipal water systems love to follow them, on account of regulation and testing takes care of little jobs like keeping the water safe.

Anyhow, the Committee on Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources of the NC Senate has passed a rule that would let companies that want to frack for gas — forcing water and chemicals into stone to fracture it, releasing trapped hydrocarbons — do so without telling us what chemicals they are using. And if you’re wondering who’s in charge here these days, it was the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources -- the people supposedly looking out for the North Carolina environment — that requested the whole shhh-don’t-tell thing.

See, here’s the thing: in May, the N.C. Mining & Energy Commission was going to approve its rules for the newly approved practice of fracking. Rules included things like, say, disclosure of the toxic stew companies use to keep the fluid doing what they want it to underground. Then noted environmentally aware and science-supportive petrogiant Halliburton started clearing its throat and shuffling its feet, and suddenly the commission’s chair, James Womack, withdrew the rules from voting.

The original rules allowed the fracking companies to submit certain ingredients under seal to the commission, if it considered those trade secrets. But because the ingredients would be held, even under seal, by a public agency, they could be used as evidence in litigation. The fracking companies don’t like that.

So the NC Senate Committee on Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources has done what the energy companies hoped: voted to let them frack away without disclosing what they’re using. They promise — seriously, they PROMISE — that they wouldn’t use anything dangerous, and we should totally trust them.

I’m willing to take the energy companies at their words that they’re trustworthy. So I suggest they submit the ingredients, make the information totally public, and just promise not to steal each other’s trade secrets. If they’re that trustworthy, resisting the temptation won’t be hard. Shamefully untrusting citizens can thus make sure nobody’s using poison to blow up the rocks in their aquifers, and the companies’ trade secrets remain safe.

Best of all — no science needed! Even the NC legislature should like that solution.


Scott Huler About the Author: A writer who commonly explores science, culture, and the relationship between the two. Follow on Twitter @huler.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. greenhome123 11:36 pm 06/27/2013

    I will be fine with this when the Republicans and frackers opposed to listing the ingredients each drink a cup of fracking fluid to show it is safe.

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  2. 2. bucketofsquid 3:14 pm 06/28/2013

    greenhome123 wins!

    Seriously, it is good that I no longer live in NC because I’d be hunting petro company executives and board members if I did.

    This does mean that we should avoid any food or drink products made in NC as well as skin care products or basically anything that touches human flesh.

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