Three environmental groups and a watchdog group will file a petition in a Wyoming court Monday, hoping a judge will force state regulators to release secret lists of chemicals used by some companies in the hydraulic fracturing process.
The groups — including two based in Wyoming — announced Thursday they will sue the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission over its decision to grant trade-secret exemptions for some of the mixtures used in the controversial industry process also known as fracking.
The groups planning to sue the WOGCC in Natrona County District Court include the Wyoming Outdoor Council, the Powder River Basin Resource Council, Earthworks and OMB Watch, a nonprofit, Washington, D.C.-based government watchdog. Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law firm based in San Francisco, is suing on behalf of the groups.
The groups want a judge to decide if the commission acted illegally in granting the companies’ requests for trade-secret exclusions, said Laura Beaton, an Earthjustice attorney based in Bozeman, Mont.
The groups believe the commission is granting trade-secret exemptions to nearly all companies that ask for them, and the companies don’t have to do enough to justify why they want their ingredients kept secret, she said.
“The problem that is coming up is that the trade-secret exemptions are too broad, and they haven’t been sufficiently supported,” she said.
In 2010, Wyoming began requiring that operators disclose the ingredients in solutions used during the fracking process, in which water, sand and chemicals are pumped underground under pressure to crack open pathways for oil and gas to flow to the surface.
The practice is used in nearly all profitable oil and gas wells in Wyoming. But it has also sparked concern here and elsewhere in the U.S. as residents and environmental groups fear the practice could pollute groundwater, among other issues.
Wyoming’s first-in-the-nation rules for fracking have served as a model for other states, and an increasing number of states now regulate the practice. Wyoming’s rules specify how operators drill and complete a well, and require companies provide to the commission a list of what they will pump underground during the fracking process, and confirm or correct that data after fracking.
In response to concerns from operators, Wyoming regulators put in place a trade-secret exemption that allows companies to ask the commission keep secret the ingredients used in their processes, to protect them from competitors.
In August, state Oil and Gas Supervisor Tom Doll told attendees at an industry meeting the commission had granted trade-secret exemptions to 11 companies, protecting the identities of 146 chemicals used in their fracking mixes, since the rules went into effect. Two companies’ requests were rejected, Doll said then.
On Friday, Doll said he had yet to see any of the filing, so he couldn't comment on it. A spokesman for Gov. Matt Mead said the governor had no comment until he sees the court filing and has a chance to examine the arguments.
According to the WOGCC website on Thursday, the commission has granted trade-secret exemptions to ChemEOR, Halliburton Energy Services Inc., CESI Chemical Inc., BJ Services Co., Nalco Co., Core Lab Reservoir Optimization, CalFrac Well Services Corp. SNF Inc., Multi-Chem Group LLC, Spectrum Tracer Services, Baker Hughes, Water Mark Technologies Inc., Kroff Well Service, Weatherford, Champion Technologies and Schlumberger.
“The commission has approved some 50 secrecy requests by Halliburton and other oil and gas service companies” since it put in place disclosure rules in 2010, the groups said in a media release issued Thursday. The groups say they’ll hold a media conference Monday to discuss the filing.
The move by the groups is not isolated to Wyoming. In early August, 100 advocacy groups — including Earthjustice, the Powder River Basin Resource Council, Earthworks and OMB Watch — signed on to a petition to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency demanding the agency force companies to disclose chemicals used in fracking and test those chemicals for health and safety concerns.