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September 2010, Week 3

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Sun, 19 Sep 2010 22:24:07 -0400
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Wyoming Fracking Rules Would Disclose Drilling Chemicals
by Nicholas Kusnetz
ProPublica
September 14, 2010
http://www.propublica.org/article/wyoming-fracking-rules-would-disclose-drilling-chemicals

New rules going into effect Wednesday will place Wyoming
at the forefront of the national push to disclose
chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, the drilling
technique that's been suspected of polluting groundwater
in parts of the country with vast reservoirs of untapped
natural gas.

If the rules work as promised, they should provide the
most comprehensive accounting yet of exactly what
substances drilling companies are injecting into
particular wells, a level of specificity that goes
beyond disclosures in Pennsylvania and New York, two
states where drilling has been controversial.

As we reported last week the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency is also pressing companies for more
information about the chemicals in fluids, something
they say is a trade secret. The agency holds the last in
a series of community meetings on hydraulic fracturing,
called fracking, on Wednesday in New York.

The new Wyoming rules say companies must submit to the
Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission a full list
of chemicals they plan to use in fracking operations on
a well-by-well basis. Companies will also have to report
the concentration of each chemical used once the job is
done.

Drillers retain the right to claim that certain details
of the chemical mix are proprietary and should be kept
confidential. It remains unclear to what extent industry
will make this claim, but the commission's supervisor,
Tom Doll, expects those cases will be the exception.

"What we've explained to the operators and what we
expect is each of these components, whatever is in that
mix, will have to be disclosed," he said.

If so, the Wyoming rules would offer the most detailed
look so far at the composition of drilling fluids.

While the EPA has sought disclosure, the agency said the
list of chemicals would be kept confidential. In
Pennsylvania, a couple [4] of companies responded to
public concerns by partially disclosing the chemicals
used there. The companies list hazardous components and
their concentration by well, but do not provide a full
list of chemicals.

New York and Pennsylvania have published lists of
chemicals used, but these lists simply name chemicals
that may be in any given well and do not detail the
mixtures or concentrations. New York has proposed but
not yet adopted rules similar to Wyoming's.

Wyoming's rules require companies to list a unique
identifier for each chemical. Drillers must give a list
of chemicals they plan to use before drilling for
commission approval. After the job is done, they must
report what they ended up using.

Environmental groups say the jury is out on what
ultimately will become public.

"The devil's in the details, and I'm sure there'll be
lots of discussion about what can be proprietary," said
Deb Thomas, an organizer with the Powder River Basin
Resource Council, which has pushed for tighter
regulation and full disclosure of fracking fluids.

If a company argues certain chemical mixtures are
proprietary secrets, Doll said it would be up to the
Wyoming commission, chaired by Gov. Dave Freudenthal, or
state courts to rule on disclosure. If a claim of trade
secrets were upheld, companies still must disclose the
full list to regulators but the information would be
kept from the public.

John Robitaille, vice president of the Petroleum
Association of Wyoming, said the industry does not
expect problems complying with the rules.

Wyoming officials have expressed concerns that the
federal government may step in to regulate fracking on
state lands. In March, Doll was quoted saying that the
coming rules, prompted by Freudenthal, were specifically
intended to preclude EPA regulation by requiring greater
disclosure.

A spokeswoman for the governor said that was only part
of his motivation.

"One thing was the governor's concern in how he answered
the average person's question: Governor, how do I know
this is safe?" said Leigh Anne Manlove. "There's also a
belief that Wyoming is best able to regulate what
happens in Wyoming."

Thomas applauded the Wyoming oil and gas commission's
move, but questioned the governor's motives. As
ProPublica reported earlier this month, the EPA recently
warned residents [8] of a Wyoming town about noxious
chemicals lacing their water supply, saying people
should use fans while bathing or washing clothes to
avoid the risk of explosion. The agency is investigating
whether extensive drilling nearby is the source of the
pollution.

"He should be wanting these rules to protect the people
that live in this state," Thomas said of Freudenthal,
"not to keep the federal government out of the state."

Enforcement is another issue. Drilling companies are
supposed to post a notice including the list of
chemicals for each well they plan to drill. Doll said
his inspectors will check to ensure compliance, but he
said he has only 12 of them. Last year, he said, about
3,200 fracking operations were performed in the state.

"We won't hit every one of them," he said. "You can't do
that with 12 people."

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