Post Independent opinion: Making disclosure of fracking chemicals mandatory is essential |

Post Independent opinion: Making disclosure of fracking chemicals mandatory is essential

Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

The state agency charged with regulating the gas industry is now developing regulations mandating public disclosure of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing.

It’s high time the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission answered the widespread call for mandatory disclosure, and we endorse the proposed rules with some reservations.

Fracking chemicals run the gamut from dangerous to hazardous to toxic. While drilling and completion companies intend to keep the fluids contained, the risk of groundwater contamination is very real.

For example, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency confirmed this week that domestic water wells in Pavillion, Wyo., west of Riverton on the Wind River Indian Reservation, are heavily tainted with chemicals directly related to fracking and gas production.

The fear of fracking is valid, and it’s been made worse by gas companies guarding the chemical ingredients of fracking fluids.

Public disclosure of fracking fluid additives is essential, both for residents, regulators and emergency responders to know what they are dealing with and for the gas industry to gain public confidence.

In a nutshell, the proposed rules require the operators of all wells that undergo hydraulic fracturing to post detailed reports on the chemical additives for each fracking job within 60 days. Reports will be posted to the website, maintained by two multi-state organizations representing government groundwater and gas industry regulators.

Some gas operators working in Garfield County – Williams Production, Encana Oil and Gas and Occidental Oil and Gas – are already voluntarily posting fracking chemical reports to FracFocus. We applaud them for proactively addressing the call for disclosure.

Unfortunately, the industry as a whole isn’t responding to the opportunity for voluntary disclosure, so the state oil and gas commission is now enacting the rules to make disclosure mandatory.

We support the rule-making effort, but have a few bones to pick on the details.

The proposed Colorado rules still allow gas operators to withhold information on chemicals and chemical formulas under an exemption protecting trade secrets. This is an unacceptable loophole that will undermine public confidence in overall disclosure, and we urge the commission members to strike the exemption entirely from the proposed rules.

We question whether industry really needs 60 days to fill out and post its reports, and again wonder what effect a two-month delay in providing information will have on public confidence.

Finally, the rule takes effect in February 2012. We’d like to see some provision requiring drilling companies to disclose the chemicals used in fracking jobs prior to that date, ideally going back five to 10 years.

That said, we urge the oil and gas commission to move forward quickly in adopting its rules requiring mandatory disclosure of fracking chemicals.

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