NC Republicans want prison time for revealing what frackers are pumping into the ground
US workers change pipes at Consol Energy horizontal gas drilling rig (AFP)

Republican lawmakers in North Carolina have introduced a bill that would make it a felony to disclose the chemicals used in fracking operations outside of emergency situations, Energywire reported.

The "Energy Modernization Act," (PDF) as the bill is called, would punish revealing fracking mix information with prison terms of "a few months," in addition to civil penalties. While it would allow officials with the state emergency management office to gather that information for planning purposes and provide it for medical and firefighting personnel as necessary, first responders might also be forced to sign confidentiality agreements to protect that information.

Otherwise, however, those details would be classified as trade secrets, which companies like ex-Vice President Dick Cheney's former employer, Halliburton, have argued should be maintained in order to protect their business. However, fracking opponents have said that public disclosure of the chemicals used in the process is necessary to gauge how much damage it can do to local land and water supplies. Twenty states currently have laws on the books requiring companies to reveal what chemicals they use.

Mother Jones reported that the bill does not mention whether fire or health officials would face imprisonment if they disclose their dealing with fracking ingredients with their own colleagues.

"I think the only penalties to fire chiefs and doctors, if they talked about it at their annual conference, would be the penalties contained in the confidentiality agreement," legal expert Hannah Wiseman was quoted as saying. "But [the bill] is so poorly worded, I cannot confirm that if an emergency responder or fire chief discloses that confidential information, they too would not be subject to a felony."

The bill, introduced by GOP Sens. Andrew Brock, Eldon "Buck" Newton, and Bob Rucho, would also bar local governments from instituting their own anti-fracking rules and limit the amount of water testing done before starting a new fracking operation.

Earlier this month, officials with the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) challenged the Mining & Energy Commission when it attempted to pass a rule requiring companies to make their fracking chemicals public record, following a complaint by Halliburton.

This past February, federal officials launched an investigation into the activities at Duke Energy -- former employer of Gov. Pat McCrory (R) -- after DENR blocked two lawsuits against the company and instead negotiated two settlement offers totalling less than $100,000. The offers were later withdrawn.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]