Wyoming energy officials will adopt more rigorous tests for oil and natural gas operators asking for confidentiality of their hydraulic fracturing (fracking) chemicals, following a state court settlement reached late Friday.
The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (WOGCC), Halliburton Energy Services Inc. and the Powder River Basin Resource Council, representing a collection of environmental and landowner groups, reached the settlement in court case the council had brought against WOGCC (see Shale Daily, March 14, 2014). Halliburton intervened in the case representing industry.
Katherine O'Brien, an attorney from Earthjustice, said that "reforms required by the settlement will ensure that oil and gas companies don't get a free pass from public disclosure laws in Wyoming."
A Texas-based spokesperson for Halliburton told NGI's Shale Daily Monday that the company supports disclosure of the ingredients used in hydraulic fracturing. "Halliburton has made ingredient information available on its website and helped to establish FracFocus, the registry providing public access to the substances used on a well-by-well basis," the spokesperson said.
Halliburton intends to continue providing WOGCC with trade secret fracking additives consistent with the state agency's rules, it will work with the commission in implementing new procedures, and it will still seek WOGCC approvals for "a limited number" of chemical identities that are appropriate under the state fracking rules, the spokesperson said.
Wyoming Oil/Gas Supervisor Mark Watson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A Wyoming Supreme Court ruling last year against the state sent the issue back to the 7th District Court in Natrona County, where the settlement was hammered out. The district court erred in basing its upholding of the WOGCC supervisor's decision on the state Administrative Procedure Act (APA) instead of the Wyoming Public Records Act (WPRA), the Supreme Court ruled. At the same time, the court declined to determine whether fracking chemicals could be kept confidential as trade secrets.
After establishing fracking disclosure rules in 2010, Wyoming determined that trade secret compounds involving 146 separate chemicals, but not the chemicals themselves, were granted confidentiality by WOGCC (see Shale Daily, Aug. 29, 2011).
Under the settlement, companies will be required to submit information justifying a trade secret exemption to the WOGCC, and its staff also will be able to conduct an independent review to see if the chemicals have been disclosed elsewhere.
Earthjustice represented the Powder River Basin Resource Council, along with Wyoming Outdoor Council, Earthworks and the Center for Effective Government in the lawsuit against WOGCC. Sean Moulton, director of open government policy at the government center, said the settlement "raises the bar on trade secrecy," making it harder for companies to "hide chemical data important to protecting public health by simply rubber stamping it as secret."
Bruce Baizel, Earthworks energy program director, said that although his organization is pleased with the settlement, residents still need "better protection" of their health from fracking. "We don't think there should be any trade secret exemptions."