Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott recently released the news that private companies will face a new reporting requirement disclosing information about their “hazardous chemical stockpiles.” The demand for this kind of disclosure for big business in Texas goes against what Governor Rick Perry and Abbot have been touting as Texas’ best feature: minimum regulatory involvement by the government, which oil and gas attorneys in Texas say could impact the drilling and fracking companies’ relationships with the state. But not only did Abbot issue new requirements for these companies, he did so “weeks after his office ruled the same information would no longer be available from state agencies,” according to this article in the Houston Chronicle.
Abbot is touting the interpretation of the state’s law to protect public interest and make it easy for citizens to make informed decisions about where they are living, etc. Saying “Homeowners who think they might live near stores of dangerous chemicals would simply ask the companies what substances are kept on site, and if they do, they tell which ones they have,” Abbot presents the issue as straightforward and uncontroversial. But oil and gas attorneys in Texas predict it might be more complicated. In fact, the Houston Chronicle tested Abbott’s statement by requesting information from 20 companies, to mixed results. Some companies were willing to disclose extensive data, while others put off the request, flatly denied it, or didn’t respond.
One of the refusals came from a mining and chemical conglomerate, who politely asked the newspaper to keep their nose out of its business, claiming the information was “confidential.” And while oil and gas companies in Texas may be technically exempt from some of the interpretation of the regulation, given the “natural state” of their product (as opposed to manufactured chemicals produced by fertilizing companies, for example), oil and gas attorneys in Texas like Mike Hancock say that fracking businesses in Texas, like in the Eagle Ford Shale region, should be cautious to check the exact requirements as it applies to their business before they land themselves in legal hot water.
But the majority of the recoil from Abbott’s statements among the industry giants as well as within the media and public response comes from some possible hypocrisy. “Abbott ruled the Texas Department of State Health Services did not have to release data,” saying that the information could be utilized “in the construction or assembly” of a weapon.
While drilling and fracking companies aren’t likely to have chemical compounds or radioactive material that can easily be weaponized, oil and gas attorneys in Texas say these companies are coming under increasing scrutiny by the public for the dangerous and potentially toxic byproducts from their industry. Defendants are bringing suits against companies for injuries received from pollution of land and water by fracking, and refineries owned by companies like Chevron, Valero and Citgo among others, may in fact fall under the implied category affected by Abbott’s statement last week. Such corporations could face penalties for non-disclosure, but as one lobbyist is reported saying, “If the government doesn’t have to release the information, how in the world does a private company get this disclosure obligation thrust on it?”