County official explains new fracking chemical rules
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
RIFLE, Colorado – The oil and gas industry has been working hard to meet new Colorado disclosure requirements regarding chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process, a Garfield County official said on Thursday.
Garfield County oil and gas liaison Kirby Wynn said some chemicals still remain protected by trade secret designation, although that designation can be challenged by the public.
Even before the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) enacted the new disclosure rules in December, local drilling companies were moving to address the issue, said Wynn.
“In 2011, many Garfield County operators began voluntarily disclosing their hazardous fracturing chemicals using the FracFocus.org website,” Wynn told the county’s Energy Advisory Board (EAB) in its monthly meeting Thursday.
The COGCC enacted the new disclosure rules in response to what Kirby called “some level of public concern” about the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”
It’s a process in which water, a mixture of chemicals and sand-like solid particles are injected deep underground into gas-bearing rock formations.
The process forces open fissures, which are held open by the particles, and makes it easier for oil and gas to flow to the surface.
A drilling boom has erupted in many states as fracking becomes a common practice, and public concerns about the chemicals used have grown right along with the boom.
Colorado’s new rules, Wynn told his audience, were a compromise resulting from meetings of stakeholders from the industry, the environmental community and local governments.
“It was a consensus-based rule making,” Wynn said. “Everybody was heard.”
The new rules, Kirby said, require drillers to file a “notice of intent to conduct a fracking treatment” of a well, 48 hours prior to a frack job.
That notice, he said, goes to the COGCC and to the county government. It is posted on the COGCC website, Wynn said, but not on the county’s website.
The new rules also require that the companies must identify the chemicals used in a frack job within 60 days after the job is finished.
Dave Devanney, a member of the Battlement Concerned Citizens group of Battlement Mesa, asked why the identification of the chemicals is not provided in advance.
“Well, you haven’t put it in the ground until you’ve put it in the ground,” Wynn replied. Fracking conditions might prompt a change in procedures midway through the frack job, he said. The chemicals being used can’t be reliably reported until they actually have been used.
His answer did not satisfy some in the audience, however.
“People should know what’s going in before it’s ruining their health and everything,” said Battlement Mesa resident Jean Buchan.
Wynn replied that questions about the possible health effects of the fracking process are outside the scope of the discussion of the disclosure rules.
“We’re not going to debate [that] tonight,” he said.
“As I understand it, we’re leading the nation” on disclosure requirements, he added.
Wynn noted that some of the chemical components of fracking fluids can be withheld if they are deemed trade secrets.
An example of a disclosure page that Wynn took off the COGCC website reveals two trade secrets claimed by Chevron USA at one of its Garfield County gas wells: a “scale inhibitor” called amine phosphonate salt, and a compound for an unspecified use called modified amine.
Anyone who feels the trade secret designation is inappropriate can complain to the COGCC.
He said the COGCC, in accepting a company’s invocation of the trade secret designation, only investigates if there are complaints.
Even if there are complaints, Wynn acknowledged, the COGCC is not required by the new rules to investigate.
“It doesn’t say they absolutely have to,” remarked Dick Buchan, Jean’s husband.
“But, as I understand it,” Wynn responded, “if they don’t, that’s an open door to take it to the courts.”
“They have to listen to you,” he said of the COGCC. “That doesn’t mean they’ll take it to court for you.”
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