Lawsuit asks WOGCC to review frac fluid trade secret exemptions

The Powder River Basin Resource Council (PRBRC) and other groups asked Wyoming’s Seventh District Court to require the Wyoming Oil & Gas Conservation Commission (WOGCC) in Casper to disclose more information about chemicals used during hydraulic fracturing.

Other groups joining the lawsuit included the Wyoming Outdoor Council, Earthworks, and OMB Watch. Earthjustice, a law firm, filed the lawsuit on Mar. 23 on behalf of the groups citing concerns about the safety of Wyoming’s groundwater and drinking water.

The lawsuit asks WOGCC to review the trade secret exemptions it has provided service companies. No injunction was requested in the lawsuit. No response was immediately available from WOGCC.

Under regulations approved in 2010, Wyoming requires well operators to disclose the chemicals used in frac fluids. WOGCC has approved 50 chemical secrecy requests by oil and gas service companies and denied two chemical secrecy requests, Earthjustice attorney Laura Beaton said.

The lawsuit asked for a ruling on whether WOGCC acted illegally in granting the trade secrets requests.

“Without knowing more about the chemicals used during fracing, it’s nearly impossible for residents to determine whether their drinking water has been contaminated by oil and gas development,” said Beaton.

In November 2011, the groups submitted a public records request to WOGCC, requesting a complete list of frac fluid chemicals not already publicly disclosed. WOGCC withheld the names of those chemicals, saying service companies claimed exemptions under trade secret laws.

WOGCC approved industry trade secret claims that were insufficiently justified and overly broad, said Shannon Anderson with PRBRC.

“We found a lot of the information is being improperly labeled a trade secret, which means it is not public information as the regulation intended,” Anderson said.

Meanwhile, the states of Texas, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Montana, and Michigan all have frac fluid chemical disclosure regulations.

Bruce Baizel, an attorney for Earthworks, said other states including Oklahoma and Ohio, the US government, and some European countries are working on chemical disclosure regulations.

“It is more important than ever to make sure that the trade secret exemption is not used improperly,” said Baizel. “Unfortunately, our initial review of exemption requests showed that some companies appear to be taking advantage of the minimal state review.”

Contact Paula Dittrick at paulad@ogjonline.com.

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