Reprinted with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. Not for republication by Wyoming media.
Wyoming’s public disclosure requirements for hydraulic fracturing chemicals were once hailed by environmentalists as the best in the country.
But environmental groups say Wyoming’s Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has undermined its own achievement by allowing so many companies to hide their ingredients.
About 150 chemicals remain a secret as a result of 50 “trade secret” exemptions the commission has granted to companies, attorneys for the groups say. Only two such requests have been denied.
The commission has routinely approved requests from companies with little justification that secrecy is needed, according to a lawsuit filed late last week by Earthjustice on behalf of four environmental groups, two of them based in Wyoming.
“We’re not asking for recipes. We’re just asking to know what is being pumped into the ground,” Marilyn Ham of Cheyenne, Wyo., said in a conference call on the suit yesterday co-sponsored by the Powder River Basin Resource Council. “Right now, we only get to find out what the industry wants us to know.”
The Powder River Basin Resource Council, of which Ham is a member, is a plaintiff in the lawsuit filed Friday by lawyers with Earthjustice, along with the Wyoming Outdoor Council, Earthworks and OMB Watch.
Tom Doll, Wyoming’s oil and gas supervisor, issued a statement yesterday acknowledging the suit and detailing the commission’s process for granting trade secret status, but declined to comment further.
In the past, he has said that secrecy for fracturing fluid ingredients would be the exception, not the rule, and that his staff was being careful not to cloak “plain vanilla” fracturing fluid ingredients.
“Initially, I think people thought, ‘They’ll say that everything is a trade secret,'” Doll said in December 2010. “That hasn’t been the case.”
Wyoming’s rules, which went into effect in September 2010, were ordered by then-Gov. Dave Freudenthal (D) as an effort to show that federal intervention wasn’t needed to regulate fracturing.
The Interior Department has looked to them as a model as it considers disclosure rules for drilling on public land. But as the popularity of disclosure has grown, most state regulatory agencies have followed the industry’s preferred method of disclosure, a website run by the Ground Water Protection Council called FracFocus.org.
Wyoming’s rules are more stringent than those of many states because they require public disclosure before “fracking” of the chemicals expected to be used, and a follow-up report with the chemicals that were used. In addition, Wyoming demanded the disclosure of more chemicals.
Many states require disclosure of only chemicals already disclosed on “material safety data sheets” under worker-safety laws. Wyoming demanded disclosure of all chemicals using unique identifiers called “CAS numbers.”
But environmental groups in Wyoming warned early on that the trade secret exemption could turn into a loophole big enough to drive a frack truck through.
Within two months, the commission approved trade secret protection for numerous products, including one from BJ Services (since acquired by Baker Hughes) for “Frac Sand Proppant.”