Casper judge rules fracking ingredients are trade secrets

2013-03-25T21:00:00Z 2013-04-17T19:14:24Z Casper judge rules fracking ingredients are trade secretsBy ADAM VOGE Star-Tribune energy reporter Casper Star-Tribune Online

A Casper district judge has ruled that individual ingredients used in hydraulic fracturing can be considered trade secrets and be shielded by Wyoming law.

Judge Catherine Wilking agreed with state regulators and oil and gas industry representatives in a decision released Monday, saying that intense industry competition and sophisticated reverse engineering processes could transform a simple list of hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — ingredients into a formula to emulate another company’s success.

Wilking’s ruling shot down several landowner and environmental groups’ request for information about ingredients used to fracture oil and natural gas wells across the state. The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission refused to release several of those records, citing a state law which protects information considered trade secrets.

A representative of one group which sued for the records, the Wyoming-based Powder River Basin Resource Council, said her group is considering an appeal but hasn’t reached a decision.

“It will take us a while to digest it and figure out the next step,” Shannon Anderson, an organizer for the group, said. “We continue to believe landowners have the right to this kind of information about chemicals being injected into their land.”

Among the supporters of the judge’s decision was Gov. Matt Mead.

“This decision recognizes the importance of a state-based approach to regulating hydraulic fracturing — one that balances this important method for producing energy with environmental protection,” he said in a prepared statement Monday.

The case centers on laws which Wyoming implemented in 2010. The state that year became the first in the nation to require disclosure of components of the fluid used in hydraulic fracturing, a process wherein water, chemicals and sand are pumped into a well in order to break rock and free trapped resources.

Groups such as the resource council used the new law to request information about many hydraulic fracturing projects, but the commission held several back, citing state law which prevents the release of “trade secrets.” The decision drew a suit which was heard in Casper in January.

The council and other groups argued that the commission’s actions were “arbitary and capricious” and should require more justification than was presented. Attorneys for the commission and Halliburton, a oilfield service company that intervened in the case, said the commission’s actions were justified because they protected companies from disclosing information which would hurt their competitive advantage.

The judge sided with regulators and Halliburton, and said the burden is on lawmakers and other state officials to open such information through state law.

“Both positions have substantial merit, however the Court feels that these competing concerns are best addressed through legislative action...,” Wilking wrote.

She also ruled that interim oil and gas supervisor Bob King’s actions in withholding the information were not “arbitrary and capricious” as the groups insisted.

King said he was glad to see his interpretation of the law upheld.

“I think it did what we felt was the right thing to do from the state’s perspective,” he said. “We felt we were correct with how we interpreted the issue and thought we were in compliance with the Freedom of Information Act, so overall I was very pleased.”

Reach energy reporter Adam Voge at 307-266-0561, or at adam.voge@trib.com. Read his blog at http://trib.com/news/opinion/blogs/boom or follow him on Twitter @vogeCST.

Copyright 2015 Casper Star-Tribune Online. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(9) Comments

  1. TAP Management
    Report Abuse
    TAP Management - March 26, 2013 3:54 pm
    However, the chemicals used in fracking can be found in many products that Americans use every day. Such products include soda, printer paper, laundry detergents, hand sanitizer, antacids, and even hot dogs. The chemicals included in these items are used for a variety of reasons. A slideshow created by Fuel Fix, offers a nice visual demonstration and explanation of products that contain fracking chemicals.

    Oil and natural gas producers have experienced criticism in the past for not revealing the chemical make-up of their fracking fluids. However, the Frac Focus Chemical Disclosure Registry website provides a detailed list of the most commonly used hydraulic fracturing chemicals, their purpose and the function each. Review the detailed list here.

    Frac Focus is a joint venture of the Ground Water Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission. The organization’s website also includes an extensive database of fracking chemicals reported voluntarily by drilling companies.

    Read more about fracking chemical compounds and best practices here: http://texog.com/blog/2012/08/28/fracking-chemical-compounds-best-practices-2/
  2. Jackalope
    Report Abuse
    Jackalope - March 26, 2013 12:12 pm
    A question that has not been resolved: How can anyone test for contaminants in a water supply if they do not know what elements to test for, beyond the usual standards? In the case of Pavillon water, the EPA found contaminants that "are commonly found in drilling fluids, and not normally found in a natural setting." That still did not make a case against the oil companies.
  3. Strider
    Report Abuse
    Strider - March 26, 2013 12:07 pm
    Maybe they are trade secrets. Maybe we should deny frackers access to our lands and water tables.
  4. Robotoad
    Report Abuse
    Robotoad - March 26, 2013 11:46 am
    Pink Slime in beef was a trade secret, too. Let us just wait and see if children in Wyoming come out with extra limbs, damaged organs and completely sterile. Corporations and capitalism won this round.
  5. Opie
    Report Abuse
    Opie - March 26, 2013 11:20 am
    I think the Governor's office sent the wrong press release. The case had nothing to do with who should properly regulate fracking, but only with whether the state's bragged-about disclosure requirement really means anything. Apparently it does not.
  6. Sassy
    Report Abuse
    Sassy - March 26, 2013 9:10 am
    KFC is also secret.....but you can test it...if you dare
  7. TomP
    Report Abuse
    TomP - March 26, 2013 8:51 am
    What happens when there is spill, people are injured, and the ground is contaminated, Judge Wilking and Governor Mead? Wouldn't it make sense for public health and environment officials to know what chemicals are involved? Apparently not: Best to keep physicians and scientists in the dark, lest they spill a "trade secret."

    Moreover, the "trade secret" argument is a red herring. Drillers don't want the public to know just how poisonous and carcinogenic the whole process is, from fugitive methane releases to disposal of flowback and production fluids to more fugitive releases all along the pipeline.
  8. Cody Coyote
    Report Abuse
    Cody Coyote - March 26, 2013 8:49 am
    We've always known that Big Oil , Big Gas, and King Coal bought and paid for Wyoming's legislature and Governor's mansion years ago. They get to write the bills and make the policy.

    I'm sorry to find out here that the energy robber barons are also able to purchase sitting judges. I wonder what they paid for Judge Wilking's compliant opinion ? What's the going rate for buying a judge ?
  9. smallcage
    Report Abuse
    smallcage - March 26, 2013 2:43 am
    So .. Halliburton and Mead are a winning hand - landowners can go pound sand....
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