Candor, rather than secretiveness, would serve energy industry well

It wouldn’t be so sad if it weren’t so predictable. I’m talking about industry behaviors regarding energy practices and regulations.

Let’s start with a recent example, one that brought deserved kudos to the Colorado Oil and Gas Association. COGA this month announced a voluntary effort to establish and report baseline data about groundwater conditions and provide updates as drilling and production activities progressed. It’s admittedly a step forward, but one that falls short of what’s necessary in today’s political and regulatory climate.

Any sentient human being will see the announcement as an attempt to fend off mandated disclosure of the cocktail of chemicals used for hydraulic fracturing. Most also know the industry will ultimately be disclosing those chemicals, either voluntarily or because new regulations will require that.

Here in Colorado, it would be easy to draw a straight line between the recent COGA announcement and Gov. John Hickenlooper’s call for preferably voluntary disclosure of the fracking chemicals.

Yes, I know the chemicals make up only 0.5 percent of most fracking fluids. There’s mandatory disclosure to a handful of agencies upon request, under strict confidentiality requirements. There are multiple lists of every chemical used that are marginally useful but not specific to what’s pumped downhole in any given injection event, and there’s a movement toward “green” fluids.

This whole issue smacks of a similar controversy about 15 years ago, when the industry bunkered up against directional drilling as people concerned about the proliferation of well pads in Garfield County and elsewhere sought to minimize surface disruptions.

Too expensive, industry officials said. It would supposedly add up to 50 percent to the cost of drilling a well.

A decade later, industry advertising celebrates the ability to drill more than 60 wells from one pad.

Here’s a prediction: Sooner rather than later, voluntarily or otherwise, there’ll be routine, full-public listing of all fluids used in hydraulic fracturing. And the industry will act like it invented the practice.

Unanswered will be this question:

Why did they put up with years of bad publicity and unnecessarily anger significant portions of the general public, including landowners and others they need as partners, to delay the inevitable?

Blame the specious argument that disclosure of chemical components might reveal proprietary formulas, even though none of us has been able to duplicate the Coca Cola formula even with a list all ingredients on Coke cans in descending order of the amount used.

All of this came to mind last week while I was attending the Oil Shale Symposium at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden.

The refreshing candor of the CEO of the U.S. branch of Enefit, the Estonian company hoping to first commercially produce oil from Utah oil shale, is unusual in that emerging industry. So much so that Jeremy Boak, who directed the forum, urged those present for the concluding session on socio-economic and community impacts to be more open in order to dispel fears about the future.

Oil shale officials seem open when it serves their purposes, but otherwise very secretive.

An illustration came following the presentation by Rio Blanco County Commissioner Ken Parsons, Rifle Mayor Keith Lambert, Doug Jeavons of BBC Research and Consulting in Denver and yours truly.

We can’t provide the numbers necessary for adequate community planning, an Exxon representative said, without completing our research and development. But, when water usage for oil shale extraction became an issue, her industry pretty quickly rallied numbers necessary to minimize estimates now used in the state’s roundtable water planning process.

That’s the kind of effort the industry should mount to help communities plan for the impact they’ll face if oil shale finally becomes the “fuel of the future” it’s been for decades.

“The shaft of the arrow has been feathered with one of the eagles’ own plumes. We often give our enemies the means of our own destruction.” — Aesop, “The Eagle and the Plume”

Jim Spehar welcomes your candid thoughts at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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