Compromise and comity

Imagine a highly intentions public-policy issue in which the two sides of the debate gradually come to terms acceptable to both parties, largely as a result of the negotiating efforts of government leaders.

That’s the sort outcome most Americans expect from their political leaders and government agencies. But such a thing is almost unimaginable in the deeply partisan divide that defines Washington these days.

However, it occurred in Colorado this week with respect to new fracking disclosure rules.

Representatives of environmental groups and the oil and gas industry deserve credit for their willingness to participate in continuing negotiations, and to compromise on the rules.

But the greatest accolades must go to Dave Neslin, director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, and his staff, for brokering the agreement approved Tuesday by the commission.

Credit is also due to Gov. John Hickenlooper for initiating this rulemaking process, and to the Oil and Gas Commission for aiding Neslin in seeking compromise.

Fracking is shorthand for hydraulic fracturing. It’s a process used by energy companies to extract more oil and gas from tight deposits by injecting various compounds under pressure into fuel-bearing formations. But there are concerns about whether fracking affects groundwater and there are demands energy companies reveal all chemicals they use in fracking.

Drilling and well-service companies have been reluctant to do so, saying many of the compounds used are proprietary information or trade secrets.

The crux of the compromise announced this week allows energy firms to claim a trade-secrets exemption under the fracking disclosure rules, but only if they sign a “claim of entitlement” document that demonstrates a solid reason for the exemption. They would face perjury charges if they lied on the document, and they would no longer be able to claim trade secrets with no questions asked.

Another part of the compromise more broadly defines who may challenge a trade-secrets claim.

The new disclosure regulations take effect April 1, and fracking components will be listed on the website, http://www.fracfocus.org, where many companies have been voluntarily listing their fracking materials for much of the past year.

The new rules are important on a variety of levels. First, they are now seen as the best disclosure rules in the country, and will likely be a model for other states and will, we hope, stave off federal intrusion.

More importantly for Colorado, they allow residents of this state to learn what is being put into the oil and gas wells drilled in Colorado. That will help protect Colorado’s health and environment, while allowing the development of these resources.

Finally, the rules show that government, industry and advocacy groups can work together to truly accomplish something, rather than just lob verbal, legal and regulatory grenades.


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