Enviros work to overturn fracking trade secrets exemption in Wyo.

Posted: Nov 29, 2012

Written by

KYLE ROERINK, Casper Star-Tribune/GW
Fracking fluid

While Wyoming oil and gas producers disclose more information about hydraulic fracturing than drillers in any other U.S. state, environmental groups are wondering whether they could be sharing even more.

A trailblazer in disclosures, Wyoming in 2010 became the first state to require that companies reveal the chemicals included in their frack fluids before sending any substances underground. Along with other pre-fracturing requirements, companies in the Cowboy State must publicize more than 20 other factors critical to their shale extraction processes.

Environmental groups acknowledge that the state's shale industry has taken steps to be more transparent, but they frown on justifications energy companies use to excuse themselves from disclosing the complete list of chemicals they pump into fuel-soaked shale layers. The state-granted exemptions are known as trade secrets and are meant to protect companies' competitiveness.

Landowners who make up the Powder River Basin Resource Council are fighting to overturn Wyoming's trade secrets exemption. The group filed a lawsuit against the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission in March, calling for companies to disclose all chemicals used during fracturing.

"For us it's like a can of Coke," said Shannon Anderson, attorney and organizer for the council. "You get the ingredient list, but you don't get the formula."

She said she understands that companies need to maintain their competitiveness, but she said she thinks there may be a middle ground.

"We're sensitive to these issues, but there is a balance," Anderson said. "They've been very cavalier and err on the side of nondisclosure."

Petroleum Association of Wyoming Vice President John Robitaille said achieving trade secret status is not as easy as some might think, but Anderson said there are only two known cases of the commission denying producers the status.

Commission rules state that companies must disclose to the state oil and gas panel "the base stimulation fluid, chemical additives, compounds and concentration used in each stage of a well stimulation program" in order to be eligible for trade secret protection.

"The rule is clear," Robitaille said, "and the operators are following it to the best of their abilities."

Amy Mall, senior policy analyst with New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council, said the problem may fall with regulators. Completion or recompletion reports and logs collected by the council show that at least three companies operating in Wyoming did not provide exact concentrations for the source of base fluids.

That could mean one of two things: State regulators let the companies go unpunished or the companies were granted trade secret status.

Mall said the penalties for violations are not strong enough. She said small fines encourage companies to feel comfortable ignoring the law, so long as the fines are cheaper than the cost of compliance.

Bob King, Wyoming's interim oil and gas supervisor, questioned Mall's concern.

"I don't see how you could say penalties are too lax, because we haven't imposed any yet," he said.

The environmental groups will have a chance to square off with Wyoming officials in a state district court in January.

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