Calling them a model for other states, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) on Tuesday unanimously approved new rules for the disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing (fracking), including trade secret protections sought by the oil and gas industry. The Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) said the state "now has the strongest hydraulic fracturing rule in the country," and environmental groups praised the action.
The new disclosure rules are to take effect in April next year, a COGCC spokesperson said.
The action comes a week after the commission delayed voting on the new rules that are designed to inject more "transparency and a responsible balance," as COGCC Director David Neslin described, for disclosing fracking chemicals used in oil and gas shale fracking operations. COGCC heard more than 11 hours of testimony in Denver on Dec. 5 (see Shale Daily, Dec. 8).
"These rules require disclosure of all chemicals, not just hazardous chemicals, and for all chemicals they will provide the identity and its CAS [Chemical Abstracts Service registry] number or similar information, and its concentration," Neslin told the commission before its vote following less than an hour of discussion. "They also provide appropriate protection for legitimate trade secrets, and that's important -- not just legally, but also as part of our current economy."
Neslin said the COGCC staff feels that the rules could serve as a model for other states, but "more important, they are the right rules for Colorado."
"The public expects and deserves full transparency from the oil and gas industry," said Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp. "Colorado has taken a critical step toward building the public trust." He said Colorado has built on the experience of several other states, including Wyoming, Arkansas, Texas and Montana.
In the end, representatives of environmental and industry stakeholder groups both endorsed the new rules. COGA CEO Tisha Conoly Schuller said the industry group and its individual members all support the rules. She lauded all the parties for "being willing to come to the table in a meaningful way during the course of four months."
Schuller said the state's oil and gas industry, state officials and various stakeholders have a "new model to follow."
Environmental and public health officials, along with some local elected officials in Colorado, had pushed COGCC for tougher rules to guard against groundwater supplies being contaminated from the chemicals used in fracking.
The Colorado commission's fracking chemical disclosure action comes at a time when at least two major federal agencies -- the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Interior -- are looking at future rules guiding fracking and general shale development, along with state and local officials (at least two Colorado cities have established their own fracking reporting requirements) debating the best approach.
COGCC had been urged to require predisclosure on the fracking chemicals, something critics say Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper advocated last summer, but Neslin cautioned that because companies often change fracking formulas right up until the time chemical mixtures are actually injected into the ground, current proposed rules don't require predisclosure from the operating companies.
The new rules, in fact, allow operators 60 days after a well is started to disclose the chemicals being used, and Neslin defended giving this much time by reminding the commission that "disclosure is not the first line of environmental defense." He contends the first line is assuring the integrity of the well bore, next imposing additional rules and regulations on the drilling and third requiring operators to complete periodic groundwater tests.
"Disclosure is important for transparency and important for public confidence, but it is not critical to protecting the environment," Neslin said.
Current Colorado rules require lists of drilling chemicals to be maintained onsite at well sites and turned over when requested within 24 hours to emergency responders. There is also a voluntary program for operators to use in disclosing chemicals on the Internet (www.fracfocus.org), but critics contend that it is sparsely used. In reaction, the cities of Grand Junction and Palisade, CO, have adopted their own predisclosure requirements for chemicals used in drilling within their city boundaries.
According to the COGCC's latest statistics, Colorado has 25,700 active oil and gas wells and 40,000 plugged and abandoned wells. It has wells in 42 of the state's 63 counties with the bulk of them (10,000 wells) in Weld County north of Denver.