If you felt the earth tremble beneath your feet this past week, it may not have been because of an earthquake caused by a nearby injection well, or a shale gas well being fracked on your neighbor’s property. It was more likely because of two things, one good and one bad.
First, the bad news: the EPA confirmed that the presence of contamination in water wells near Pavillion, Wyoming could be due to hydraulic fracturing. Even in the absence of any scientific studies – as a Halliburton witness was forced to admit under oath last week – the industry and some regulators have continued to claim that hydraulic fracturing does not contaminate groundwater. The Pavillion results seem to put an end to that fiction.
Second, the good news: two states – Texas and Colorado – approved chemical disclosure rules for hydraulic fracturing chemicals on the same day. So what, you say? New Mexico passed a disclosure rule last month that was so bad, even some oil and gas companies complained that they would have to come back to ‘fix’ the rule.
These two states have largely set the bar nationally for what “full public disclosure” means for hydraulic fracturing chemicals. Both require the reporting of all chemicals – whether they have Material Safety Data Sheets or not.
The Colorado rule requires that all concentrations of those chemicals in the frack fluids also be reported. Texas did not get quite that far due to opposition by that nemesis of federal regulation of hydraulic fracturing: Halliburton. Even though there are plenty of industry whispers that Halliburton’s secret recipes are nothing more than dish soap and diesel, with a dash of guar gum and 2-BE, Halliburton has resisted full disclosure in every state where it has a presence, so far.
Both the Texas and Colorado rules also require mandatory reporting on the FracFocus website. Each rule will require that FracFocus modify its current voluntary and incomplete reporting of chemicals to include all fracking chemicals, and to allow the public to be able to search the website.
Neither rule is perfect, as each allows for a claim to an exemption from disclosure for a chemical under the rubric of it being a trade secret. The Colorado rule provides for a report on the number and identity of those claiming exemptions in twelve months time, so we will see whether this exemption gets overused. A recent review by Earthworks turned up more than 170 exemptions in Wyoming since their disclosure rule was passed in 2010.
But it is important to note the larger victory here: the Colorado (and Arkansas) rule for the first time in oil and gas regulations elevates the community right to know principle (disclosure) above the narrow economic principle of protecting corporate property.
Instead of taking New Mexico’s path – which ignored public concerns and approved the weakest disclosure rule in the nation – Colorado made these changes in response to public comment and pressure. The door has now been opened for other states and the U.S. Department of Interior to step through. Maybe a federal standard on disclosure would be a good next step.