Using Information Disclosure to Achieve Policy Goals: How Experience with the Toxics Release Inventory Can Inform Action on Natural Gas Fracturing

March 2014

In one of the most striking developments in recent years, the fracturing of shale deposits has transformed the U.S. energy economy by sharply increasing the supply of natural gas and lowering its cost. Shale fracturing, or fracking, also poses significant challenges for state governments as they design and adopt public policies to respond both to changes in the shale gas industry and rising public concern over health and environmental risks associated with fracturing.

This paper focuses on the potential of mandatory information disclosure policies to meet public demands for knowledge of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. It draws from an extensive study of the use of information disclosure in the federal Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) program to illustrate how such policies operate; the effects they have on businesses and the public; the way in which the information is used by public officials; the potential and limitations of such policies; and how they can be designed and implemented in a way that helps to assure their effectiveness.