Colorado delays fracking disclosure decision
December 5, 2011
DENVER – Colorado regulators decided Monday night to wait a week before they start deliberating a proposal to require oil and gas companies to publicly disclose what chemicals they use in hydraulic fracturing.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission made the decision after hearing about 11 hours of opinions on the proposal from industry officials, conservation groups, residents, local government leaders and water utilities who overflowed a meeting room Monday.
All parties generally supported the commission’s efforts but disagreed on the details, including protection for trade secrets and how quickly the information should be disclosed.
“We understand disclosures are important to the public,” said Tisha Conoly Schuller, president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association.
Hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, involves blasting water, sand and chemicals into rock formations to free oil and natural gas. Companies have been fracking for decades, but as drilling expands to more populated areas, residents near wells have expressed concerns about potential effects on their health and drinking water.
Commission director David Neslin said requiring companies to publicly disclose what chemicals they use is important for protecting public health and the environment. But more critical are the state’s rules for monitoring wells, ensuring proper casing and cementing around oil and gas wells, and sampling water to help detect contamination, Neslin said.
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“It’s only one tool,” Neslin said of public disclosures. “We have other tools that provide more direct protection.”
In recent years, Arkansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wyoming have proposed or adopted rules requiring disclosure of fracking chemicals. Only Texas and Colorado, however, have moved to require disclosure of all chemicals, not just those considered hazardous by workplace regulators, industry representatives said.
After Gov. John Hickenlooper called for Colorado to draft a disclosure rule, the commission proposed having companies list nonproprietary ingredients and concentrations on FracFocus.org, a national website created by two intergovernmental agencies. The rule was proposed to take effect Feb. 1, but commission staff recommended delaying that until April 1 to give drillers more time to comply.
The commission also proposes giving designated local officials 48 hours’ notice of fracking operations. Politicians representing Commerce City said even they were caught off guard by recent fracking in Adams County.
“Are you going to contact me when I’m dead?” resident Kristi Douglas said, visibly shaking.
Other residents, conservation groups and two state representatives said Monday that a disclosure rule shouldn’t include any protection for trade secrets. Some said disclosures should be made before fracking starts.
Halliburton and others said they would support listing the ingredients but they don’t want to publicly disclose the amounts of certain ingredients.
Commission staff say a survey of Colorado disclosures on FracFocus.org show only a small percentage claim trade secrets, though the website includes only voluntary disclosures.
Neslin said the commission would support creating its own website for disclosures, if FracFocus doesn’t add a way to search listings by chemical or time period. FracFocus already allows searches by other parameters, including by location.
Neslin said requiring operators to list chemicals before fracking would have little value, since recipes can change, and Colorado’s drilling rules already presume fracking fluids can be dangerous.
Among speakers Monday, two called for a ban on fracking. Anthony Chavez of Occupy Denver urged commissioners to protect water for future generations.
The rulemaking process has prompted suggestions, including adding tracers in fracking fluid so that any contamination can be traced and banning diesel or carcinogens in fracking fluid. Neslin said commissioners could consider those ideas separately later and also adjust the disclosure rule if needed in the future.
“The game is not over when you take action on this proposal,” Neslin told commissioners.