New Wyoming rules increase fracking disclosure

Newly approved Wyoming rules are expected to provide for more public disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells than the groundbreaking Colorado requirements that took effect last year.

Wyoming’s Oil and Gas Conservation Commission this week unanimously approved the rules.

Fracturing involves high-pressure pumping of water, sand and other substances into wells to increase oil and gas flow. Wyoming’s rules will require companies to disclose to the state what chemicals they will use in the processs, and such disclosures would be available to the public. Companies could ask the state to keep proprietary information confidential.

Colorado requires companies to maintain inventories of fracturing additives and other chemicals used in wells and provide them to state officials or health care providers when needed to respond to concerns about possible impacts. Once provided to the state, the disclosed chemicals also can be obtained as public records, except where trade secrets are an issue.

But Dave Neslin, director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, said he knew of only one instance so far where the state has had to ask for the information. It involved a case last winter when a Bureau of Land Management inspector in southwest Colorado was concerned about possible exposure to a well-site chemical. The incident didn’t involve fracking.

“I think our experience would be the rule worked well in terms of allowing us to obtain the information promptly from the operator,” he said.

Michael Freeman, an attorney for EarthJustice, said the Colorado rule “could certainly go further than it did but certainly will make a big difference for people who are at risk for chemicals used in oil and gas drilling.”

Dan Heilig, Wyoming staff attorney for Western Resource Advocates, said Wyoming’s new rule is a “significant first step” in terms of public disclosure of fracking chemicals in that state, assuming companies don’t constantly try to invoke the confidentiality provision.

John Robitaille, vice president of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, said disclosure will show that concerns of water wells being fouled by fracking are unfounded.

Robitaille hopes that Wyoming, by acting now,  might be allowed to retain state-specific authority if the federal government ends up dealing with disclosure and other fracking matters through regulation or legislation.

David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said a one-size-fits-all national approach wouldn’t address regional disparities in how oil and gas are developed. He said it’s also important to strike a balance between disclosure of fracking chemicals and protection of intellectual property.


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