State unveils fracking chemical disclosure rules
November 9, 2011
A new state rule governing the disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing of gas wells is slated to be officially published Thursday by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. A formal public hearing on the rule is set for Dec. 5 in Denver.
If the proposed new rule is adopted, all gas drilling operators and well service companies working anywhere in Colorado will have to post information about the chemical ingredients in fracking fluids.
The FracFocus Chemical Disclosure Registry website (fracfocus.org), which already offers fracturing chemical disclosure reports posted voluntarily by some Colorado operators, will be used for what will become a mandatory disclosure process, according to David Neslin, executive director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC).
FracFocus is a joint project of the Ground Water Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, which are both multi-state organizations of governmental agencies.
The proposed change will take effect Feb. 1, 2012.
A statewide mandatory disclosure rule comes in the wake of public pressure, a request by Gov. John Hickenlooper and a recommendation from a U.S. Department of Energy advisory board, all calling for public disclosure of fracking chemicals.
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The basic elements of the rule are:
• Chemical vendors and the well servicing companies that carry out fracking completions of gas wells must provide the fracking chemical reports to the well operators within 30 days of the job. Well operators must then post the information to FracFocus within another 30 days.
• The disclosure reports will include well location, total volume of fluid used in fracking, chemicals used in the frack fluid and their concentration levels, the chemical supplier company, and technical sheets on the chemicals, gas well location by latitude and longitude, well number and well depth.
Trade secret protections
However, the COGCC will continue to allow companies to conceal certain chemicals or mixtures if they claim trade secret protections, Neslin said. For trade-secret chemicals or mixtures, the companies would still have to report the chemical’s purpose and identify its chemical family, but no further details.
Full disclosure would be required on request to COGCC staff or public health officials, but would otherwise remain confidential, Neslin said.
Environmental groups are calling this the “trade secret loophole,” and say the new rule won’t accomplish its goal as long as trade secret protections are allowed.
“The companies can claim an unlimited number of trade secret exemptions without providing a reason,” said Petrika Peters, West Slope energy organizer for the Colorado Environmental Coalition. “This provision will keep the public from having full knowledge of what chemicals are being used.”
Neslin contends the provision is reasonable at this point.
“Trade secret formulas seem to be infrequent,” he said. “And the industry understands that overuse would be self-defeating. If it appears the trade secret protections are being abused, we can amend the rule.”
The gas industry, meanwhile, is supporting the rulemaking process, said Doug Flanders, director of policy and external affairs for the Colorado Oil and Gas Association. He said answering the public call for disclosure will give the industry better transparency and accountability.
“This will show that we are disclosing what’s going downhole and make sure folks understand what’s happening,” Flanders said.
Draft rule, fracking information online
Public comments on the proposed rules are being accepted on the COGCC website until 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 23. The draft rules are also posted on the site.
Go to cogcc.state.co.us and click on “Hydraulic fracturing disclosure rulemaking” at the top of the page. The draft rules are contained in the “Proposed Amendments” link, and online comments can be posted from the “Comments” link.
The FracFocus website offers searches by map or text, and the ability to search by county, well operator or well number. It also offers extensive background information on hydraulic fracturing, groundwater protection, how chemicals are used in fracking, and links to regulations in each state.
Neslin said Colorado’s proposed disclosure rules also call for fracking disclosure reports to be searchable by time period and by chemical. State officials have asked the FracFocus hosts to add these functions within a year, Neslin said, or the COGCC will develop its own fracking disclosure database that is searchable by all those parameters.