The COGCC’s much anticipated rulemaking hearing for disclosure of hydraulic fracturing fluid ingredients kicks off tomorrow, December 5, in Denver

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“Trade secret” status for some ingredients in the hydraulic fracturing promises to be the most contentious issue on the table. Here’s a preview of tomorrow’s hearing from Mark Jaffe writing for The Denver Post. From the article:

One ingredient found in some of the liquids is aldehyde — which gives cilantro its fragrance and is also in formaldehyde. While other ingredients in the fluid include more-detailed explanations, when it comes to the aldehyde and some other components of the fluid, that data is simply listed as “Confidential Business Information.”

“You’d want to know if they’re putting an herb or a poison down an oil well near your house,” said Mike Freeman, an attorney with the environmental law group Earthjustice…

The rule would require drillers to file a list of the chemicals and their percentage by volume of the fracking fluid. The information would be publicly available on an Internet database, FracFocus.org.

A key battle at Monday’s hearing will center on the oil and gas industry’s use of “trade secrets” to limit disclosure for some of those ingredients…

In comments to the commission, several counties, including Boulder and La Plata, asked that standards be set up to define what qualifies as a trade-secret chemical…

In comments to the commission, Houston-based Noble Energy, which is drilling oil and gas wells in the Denver-Julesberg Basin, said: “Adequate trade secret protections for hydraulic fracturing chemicals are critically important to ensure that vendors and service providers are not dissuaded from providing or using new and innovative chemical technologies” in Colorado…

“We assume that hydraulic fracturing fluids are dangerous and should be isolated,” [David Neslin, oil and gas commission director] said. “The first line of defense isn’t chemical disclosure. It is the integrity of the well and proper handling of the fluid on the surface.” Surface spills and poorly constructed wells that can leak fluid and gas into shallow aquifers pose the greatest risk, Neslin said.

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More coverage from Bob Berwyn writing for the Summit County Citizens Voice. Here’s an excerpt:

Current regulations allow local governments to comment on drilling permits that they believe may risk public health. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is required to review drilling applications proposed in public drinking water supply areas and propose additional protections needed to protect water quality. However, under the proposed fracking rule, the local governments and health department will not even be notified that the well is going to be fracked, or what chemicals will be used.

“The COGCC is asking for local government input on drilling proposals, but not letting them know what is being proposed,” said Tresi Houpt, a former Garfield County Commissioner and former member of the oil and gas conservation commission. “If toxic chemicals are proposed for use in water supply areas, or near homes, local government health departments must have that information,” she said.

“Water and waste water management entities need to be aware of the chemicals being used. Pre-disclosure would benefit water utilities and the environment,” said water treatment engineer Jim Miller, a member of the Colorado Water Utility Council. The Colorado Water Utility Council has formally intervened in the COGCC rulemaking, requesting disclosure of the chemicals contained in fracking fluid at the well-permitting stage. The council represents Colorado water utilities responsible for providing drinking water to over 80 percent of Colorado residents.

Some water providers have worked with local jurisdictions to pass ordinances that help protect local water supplies. Grand Junction and Palisade, for example, have watershed protection ordinances that require the full disclosure of hydraulic fracturing in order to receive a permit to drill an oil or gas well in the watershed. Grand Junction also requires the use of green (non-toxic) hydraulic fracturing materials if drilling occurs in its watershed. But most watersheds do not have these local protections — that’s why a statewide rule is needed, according to Frank Smith, a community organizer with the Western Colorado Congress.

“Emergency responders need to know upfront what’s being brought into their jurisdiction before a hydraulic fracking event occurs, because they will be the ones responding to an accident, not the operators. It’s just common sense,” said Shanna Koenig, with the Northwest Council of Government’s Water Quality/ Quantity Committee.

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More coverage from Joe Hanel writing for the Cortez Journal. From the article:

This summer, Gov. John Hickenlooper urged the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to adopt a rule that requires public disclosure of frack fluids.

Hickenlooper has said he does not believe claims that fracking risks the pollution of groundwater, but more public disclosure will help the gas industry convince others that fracking is safe.

The COGCC already requires companies to disclose the content of their fluids to doctors and state regulators in emergencies. The new rule would require companies to post their fluids on the Frac Focus website (www.fracfocus.org).

But the proposed rule also lets companies claim an exemption for trade secrets.

Regulators would not have to approve trade-secret exemptions, and that has stirred the ire of environmentalists.

“It certainly doesn’t fit the standard that was set by the governor in terms of increasing accountability for the industry,” said Josh Joswick of the San Juan Citizens Alliance.

But industry groups like the Colorado Oil and Gas Association say the exemption is necessary to keep Colorado drillers competitive in an era when gas companies have an increasing array of choices for places to drill.

“In considering the issue of trade secret protection, the Commission …. should keep in mind the law of unintended consequences,” wrote Ken Wonstolen, a lawyer for COGA, in a statement to the COGCC. “For example, if valuable trade secret rights of companies doing business in Colorado are not adequately protected, then the most effective and valuable HF fluid technology may not be made available to Colorado operators.”

Gunnison County plans to show up at the hearings tomorrow. Here’s a report from Seth Mensing writing for The Crested Butte News. From the article:

Under mounting public pressure, the COGCC is answering calls to produce the list of chemicals that may someday find their way into the public’s water supply.

In a “statement of basis,” the COGCC says, “Members of the public have expressed interest in learning the identity of chemicals in hydraulic fracturing fluids,” adding that the commission is following the lead of members of industry, which have voluntarily released the components of its fracking fluids, and other states, like Texas, that have already implemented reporting requirements of their own.

And while the COGCC says it will “require service companies and vendors [such as DuPont] to disclose all known chemicals in hydraulic fracturing fluids to operators and require operators to disclose such chemicals to the public via the website FracFocus.org,” it gives industry the opportunity to share that information directly with the COGCC or health professional, showing “respect to an operator’s trade secrets.”

At a meeting Tuesday, November 15 Gunnison County Commissioner Hap Channell expressed his frustration at the “trade secrets” caveat, which he referred to as a “gap you could drive a locomotive through.”

“This commissioner is very distressed over the trade secret loophole,” he said. “I see, as a result of that portion of the proposed rule changes, that virtually [the entire disclosure requirement is] ineffective … But that’s just one commissioner’s view.”

It was also the view of High Country Citizens’ Alliance (HCCA) public lands director Matt Reed, who told the commissioners, “Governor Hickenlooper’s intention [in this rulemaking] was to bring transparency to oil and gas operations and it’s HCCA’s position that this proposed rule fails and undercuts that objective with ‘trade secrets’ being the most glaring example of why.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

One thought on “The COGCC’s much anticipated rulemaking hearing for disclosure of hydraulic fracturing fluid ingredients kicks off tomorrow, December 5, in Denver

  1. Good article! The COGCC is too pompous for our own good. Gas companies are drilling and fracking all over the western slope and it would be hard to convince me that the rush isn’t due to fear of being shut down as soon as the ingredients for the frack cocktail are revealed.

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