Suit Seeks to Divulge Fracking Chemicals

Thursday, January 26, 2017 @ 05:01 PM gHale

A lawsuit against the Montana Board of Oil and Gas seeks to require more disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing jobs in the state.

The lawsuit seeks to reform rules requiring disclosure of the types of chemicals used during fracking, the process of pumping large volumes of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure to free oil and gas trapped in porous rock.

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“In Montana there’s no ability for the public to scrutinize these trade secret claims,” said Katherine O’Brien, an Earthjustice attorney, who is representing the plaintiffs, Montana Environmental Information Center, Natural Resources Defense Council and seven individuals.

Operators currently can cite trade secrets to avoid disclosing specific chemicals, she said.

In Wyoming, by contrast, oil and gas operators must explain in an affidavit why the chemicals involved are a trade secret, and then the state’s oil and gas supervisor makes a ruling whether a trade secret exists, O’Brien said.

In Montana, oil and gas operators don’t have to prove that the chemical mixture is in fact a trade secret, O’Brien said.

“The board’s fracking chemical rules in contrast just create an honor system,” O’Brien said.

In an effort to provide more transparency, the Montana Board of Oil and Gas passed new rules in 2011 requiring companies to publicly disclose the generic names of chemicals they pump into the ground.

“The board feels that the disclosure requirements adopted in 2011 are adequate,” said Jim Halvorson, administrator for Montana Board of Oil and Gas.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit petitioned the board in July 2016 to close what they call gaps in the disclosure rules and require operators to disclose specific chemical information before fracking occurs and justify trade secret claims.

The board denied the petition in September.

The lawsuit, filed in state court Tuesday in Lewis and Clark County, asks the court to declare the board’s decision rejecting the petition as unlawful. It also asks the court to require the board to reconsider the disclosure requirements again.

“The framework for exempting trade secrets under the Board’s current disclosure rules contravenes the fundamental purpose of the constitutional right-to-know provision and violates the specific requirements established by the Supreme Court to implement that right when alleged trade secret information is at issue,” the lawsuit said.

Under current rules, oil and gas operators do not have to share specific ingredients of a fracking operation until after the job wraps up, O’Brien said.

That’s a problem for landowners with property near the operation if they want to educate themselves about the risk, O’Brien said.

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