WASHINGTON—The Securities and Exchange Commission is asking oil and gas companies to provide it with detailed information—including chemicals used and efforts to minimize environmental impact—about their use of a controversial drilling process used to crack open natural gas trapped in rocks.
The federal government's investor-and-markets watchdog is stepping into the heated environmental debate surrounding hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," according to government and industry officials, even as state and federal environmental officials have begun to bring greater pressure on the industry. The process, which involves pumping water, chemicals and sand underground to free difficult-to-reach natural gas in shale basins, has come under criticism from environmental groups ad some lawmakers over concerns toxins in the mix may contaminate air and water.
The SEC move shows the broad interest among Washington regulators in taking a closer look at fracking and suggests companies that are betting billions of dollars on the technology will increasingly need to weigh disclosing techniques they often consider proprietary. Battles over disclosure have already broken out at the state level, including in states such as New York and Pennsylvania that sit on the giant Marcellus Shale, an underground formation that has become a fracking hotbed because of the large quantities of natural gas there. Just last week, Noble Energy Inc. paid $3.4 billion for a stake in developing 663,350 acres there.