Despite industry opposition, state regulators unanimously approved new rules Tuesday requiring oil and gas companies to disclose chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking."
Fracking is a technique used to crack gas-bearing rock formations deep underground to stimulate natural gas production.
Environmental and public health advocates hailed the passage of the new reporting rules as a victory of public safety over corporate secrecy.
Advocates for more stringent public disclosure of fracking fluids pointed out that not only can the chemicals leak into current and future drinking water sources underground, but the chemicals could spill during handling on the surface.
"This ruling was the right thing to do. One look at the Gulf of Mexico is proof that things don't always turn out the way drilling companies expect," Western Resource Advocates staff attorney Dan Heilig said in a prepared statement.
Industry organizations and individual companies argued against the new rules, claiming the industry has a proven track record. That point is often countered by others who say lax reporting requirements prevent the public from knowing whether fracking has ever contaminated drinking water sources.
Industry also argued that the chemical mixtures used in fracking are proprietary. In response, the commission provided language in the new rules that would require state regulators not to share certain information with the public if a company can prove it is proprietary.
"They will have to go out of their way to say, 'We want you to hold this information as confidential,'" Oil and Gas Commission Supervisor Tom Doll said.
Doll said if the agency agrees to keep any information confidential, the staff will have the information so it can carry out the agency's charter to protect groundwater and drinking water supplies.
Gov. Dave Freudenthal, who sits on the five-member oil and gas commission, directed the agency to draft the new rules as a way to assure federal regulators that Wyoming should maintain regulatory control over fracking.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in March launched a new research effort to investigate the potential adverse impacts of hydraulic fracturing on water quality and public health. Increasingly sophisticated fracking and horizontal drilling technologies are credited for unlocking about 100 years worth of new domestic reserves in recent years, according to the industry.
Steve Jones with the Wyoming Outdoor Council called the commission's vote a "good step forward."
"This was an important decision," Jones said in a prepared statement. "I think we'd all like the state to be able to work proactively to protect workers and residents. These rules, if stringently applied, should help regulators do a better job of protecting rivers and streams and underground aquifers from contamination."
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