A consortium of environmental groups has filed a petition with a Wyoming district court, seeking to require the state Oil and Gas Conservation Commissions to disclose information about specific chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of oil and natural gas wells that are being kept confidential for proprietary business reasons.
Five groups -- Earthjustice, which filed the petition in Wyoming's Seventh Judicial District Court; Powder River Basin Resource Council; Wyoming Outdoor Council; Earthworks; and OMB Watch -- are alleging that Wyoming's precedent-setting 2010 requirements for identifying the chemicals used in fracking are being watered down by the oil/gas commission's decisions to allow 50 requests from oil/gas operators to keep confidential the identities of some chemicals.
The joint petition asks the state court to find that the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (WOGCC) is violating the state's public records act and force it to set aside past decisions that allegedly applied trade secret and confidential commercial information exemptions too broadly. The joint petition is asking the court to determine that WOGCC "acted illegally in granting the trade secret requests," said a spokesperson for the Powder River Basin Resource Council.
Telling the court that disclosure of hydraulic fracturing chemical information is a "critical step in protecting public health and water quality," the groups allege that 78% of the fracking chemicals are associated with short-term health effects (burning eyes, rashes, asthma-like effects, nausea, etc.). "Between 22 and 47% of those chemicals also are associated with longer-term health effects," the spokesperson said.
The environmental groups said that through a public records act request to WOGCC last November they sought a list of the fracking chemicals that had not been publicly disclosed, and the state agency withheld the names saying the drilling companies claimed they were exempt from reporting requirements under trade secret laws. Nevertheless, a subsequent review by the groups alleges that WOGCC approved industry trade secret claims that were "insufficiently justified and overly broad."
While acknowledging Wyoming's leadership role in establishing fracking chemical disclosure rules, Shannon Anderson, with the Powder River Council, said it is time to review the rules to see how well they are working. "We found a lot of information is improperly being labeled a trade secret," Anderson said.
"People in Wyoming and throughout the country have a right to know what chemicals are being injected in the ground around their homes," said Katherine McFate, OMB Watch president.