Colorado counties weigh in on proposed fracking rule
November 25, 2011
DENVER – Colorado counties are suggesting changes in a proposed state rule that would require oil and gas companies to publicly disclose most of the chemicals they use in hydraulic fracturing.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has been used for decades, but residents near drilling operations have expressed concerns about potential effects on their health and drinking water. Hydraulic fracturing involves blasting water, sand and chemicals into rock formations so oil and natural gas can escape.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has proposed requiring companies to use the FracFocus.org website – a joint project of the Ground Water Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission – to publicly disclose what chemicals they use starting Feb. 1. Ingredients considered to be trade secrets would be disclosed only to state regulators and certain county officials and health professionals on request.
A public hearing on the proposed rule is scheduled for Dec. 5.
In written comments submitted before a deadline Friday, Pitkin County commissioners pushed for full disclosure of all chemicals used in fracturing, not just the nonproprietary ones. Gunnison County Democrats, Citizens for Huerfano County and others have criticized the rule for protecting trade secrets rather than requiring full disclosure.
“Unfortunately, far from realizing that objective, the proposed rule allows oil and gas companies effectively to hide whatever chemicals they prefer not to disclose,” Pitkin County commissioners wrote.
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Shell Exploration and Production Co. has said information protected as confidential under state and federal laws should remain confidential.
County commissioners for Delta, Routt and San Miguel counties and Boulder County Public Health officials said the rule should clarify how operators declare something to be a trade secret.
And companies should be held responsible for inaccurate or incomplete information, county commissioners in Pitkin and Routt counties said. Operators have said they shouldn’t be held responsible for inaccurate information provided by third-party vendors.
Delta County commissioners praised a provision that would have companies provide 48 hours’ notice of fracking activity but requested that local authorities be notified too.
Routt County commissioners requested that the rule also apply to fracking by non-liquid means, because at least one company has used technology involving fracking using butane and propane in gel form.
San Miguel County commissioners and Boulder County health officials are among those pushing for disclosures to be posted directly on the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission website rather than FracFocus.org.
They also suggested that fracking fluids include a marker that would allow the fluids to be traced to a specific operator.
Many comments submitted on the proposal have supported efforts for more public disclosure of fracking chemicals.
“We believe that greater transparency related to these matters will be of benefit to landowners, the environment, and, ultimately, oil and gas operators because it will build a greater degree of trust in our community,” Boulder County health officials wrote.