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New Rules Are First in U.S. — Federal Law Still Needed to Close Gaps

Joint press release: EARTHWORKS * Powder River Basin Resource Council

SHERIDAN, Wyo., Sept. 16 — Wyoming's new rules requiring natural gas drillers to disclose chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing are the best in the nation but fall short of full transparency, citizen groups said. They urged Congress to pass legislation protecting all Americans' right to know about hazardous drilling compounds that could contaminate water supplies.

“This is the toughest disclosure rule on the books, but the devil's in the details,” said Deb Thomas, an organizer with the Powder River Basin Resource Council, which for ten years has pushed the state to protect residents from the potential hazards of oil and gas development. “Governor Freudenthal and the oil and gas commission have taken a strong first step with fracking disclosure. But we still need legislation to protect citizens in every natural gas drilling state and prevent drilling companies from trying to keep chemicals used in oil and gas drilling, fracking and production secret.”

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is the high-pressure injection of hundreds of thousands of pounds of chemical-laced fluids into wellheads to force deposits to the surface. Fracking is suspected of polluting groundwater in Wyoming, Colorado, Texas, Pennsylvania, New York and other states where gas is trapped in underground shale formations. Earlier this month the U.S. EPA warned some residents of Pavillion, Wyo., not to drink from private water wells after tests found hydrocarbons, methane and high sodium that may have come from fracking operations.

The EPA is pressing companies for more information about chemicals in fracking fluids, which drillers regard as trade secrets. In Congress, 65 members of the House are cosponsors of the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals (FRAC) Act by Rep. Dianne DeGette of Colorado.

Gwen Lachelt, director of EARTHWORKS' Oil and Gas Accountability Project, agreed that the Wyoming rules go farther than the limited disclosure in other states. But she said there are shortcomings, and the burden is on residents to seek out the information on a state website via a complicated and confusing search process.

  • Although companies must list on their drilling permit applications the chemicals and concentrations they plan to use, compounds patented as proprietary will be disclosed only to the state Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and will not be made public.
  • Reports filed upon completion of wells will disclose the actual amounts of chemicals used, and the constituent ingredients of proprietary compounds, but those reports may not be available for a year after drilling begins. If a well is stimulated more than once, disclosure of additional chemicals is on the honor system.
  • Landowners and neighbors of drill sites will not be provided notice of the disclosure and well completion reports, but will have to go online to see if they stand to be directly affected by drilling operations.

“Wyoming has raised the bar, but it took 10 years, intervention by two federal agencies and the poisoning of a community's drinking water,” said Lachelt. “We need a federal standard to protect residents in all 34 oil and gas states. In the meantime, we call on the states to follow Wyoming s lead, and for companies nationwide to voluntary disclose all the chemical constituents and concentrations used on site throughout the drilling, fracturing, well workover and production processes.”