A model for chemical disclosure--what can the oil and gas industry learn from household products

Earlier this year, I blogged about lessons that the oil and gas industry could learn from new processes that some hospitals are putting into place to deal with medical errors and accidents, including how information is disclosed to interested parties.

Now there is another industry that holds some important lessons for the oil and gas industry when it comes to chemical disclosure--led by SC Johnson. SC Johnson, maker of common household brands like Drano, Windex, Off, Raid, Pledge, and more, has recognized that "Today's families want to know what's in the household cleaning and air freshening products they use in their homes." So SC Johnson has made a commitment to the consumer's "right to know," and will make ingredients in its products available to the public, on a website, in a way that is readily accessible and easy to understand, as well as offer a toll-free phone number for consumers to call for more information. SC Johnson has said it will go beyond industry standards to give its customers what they want.

Frances Beinecke, NRDC's President, blogged about SC Johnson's leadership on this front. As Frances points out, disclosing the names of chemical ingredients doesn't mean those ingredients have been studied and found to be safe, but it is an important first step in allowing the public to make informed choices.

SC Johnson acknowledges that the public wants to know about any risks in their homes. It's the same with oil and gas extraction--the public wants to understand the risks to their air and water, and any related threats to the health of their families. There remains the issue of chemicals that are considered to be trade secrets and therefore warrant protection from disclosure. Legitimate and transparent processes must be in place so that the public has confidence that only valid trade secrets are being kept confidential.

Nevertheless, when it comes to household products, the public gets to choose what they want to bring into their homes. When it comes to oil and gas development they don’t – making it all the more important to have full disclosure of the chemicals used in the drilling and hydraulic fracturing processes. Oil and gas companies say they support disclosure (although they have opposed efforts to ensure it is done nationally). It's already required in Wyoming, and industry seems to be complying there without any problems. Yet some Members of Congress are still opposed to any common sense policies ensuring chemical disclosure to the public. It's time for decisionmakers to follow the lead of Wyoming and SC Johnson, and require full public disclosure of oil and gas chemicals.