Wyoming regulators improperly protected the identity of the chemical content of fluids used in hydraulic fracturing, a handful of groups contend in a lawsuit filed late last week.
The groups — three environmental groups and one government watchdog organization — are suing the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission over its decision to protect some companies’ information as trade secrets.
“It’s time to take a look at how the regulations are working in practice,” said Shannon Anderson of the Powder River Basin Resource Council.
The Powder River Basin Resource Council, the Wyoming Outdoor Council, Earthworks and OMB Watch filed suit in Natrona County District Court on Thursday, with the assistance of Earthjustice.
Wyoming law allows the commission to protect trade secrets from public view, but the groups say the commission has been far too willing to grant that protection to companies that want to keep secret the chemicals in fluids pumped underground during hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
According to files from the WOGCC, the commission has received 52 requests for trade secret exemptions and has only rejected two.
“In our view, this is abusing the process,” said Steve Jones, watershed protection program attorney with the Wyoming Outdoor Council.
The groups’ filing details its attempts to get access to the details of the fracking fluid contents operators are required to submit to the commission before and after they frack oil and gas wells in Wyoming.
The controversial practice, which critics and some landowners fear pollutes groundwater, is used in nearly all wells in Wyoming. Companies frack wells by forcing water, sand and chemicals under ground under pressure to crack open formations to allow trapped oil and gas to flow to the surface.
The groups filing the suit claim the commission didn’t set a high enough bar for companies that, according to commission rules, need to justify why their fracking fluid ingredients must be kept secret.
“They were generic filings and they had little economic justification why they needed trade secret exemption,” said Bruce Baizel, Earthworks senior staff attorney.
Specifically targeted by the groups were trade secret exemption requests by Baker Hughes and its predecessor BJ Services Co, CESI Chemical, Champion Technologies, Core Laboratories, Halliburton Energy Services Inc., NALCO Co., SNF Inc. and Weatherford International.
In a lengthy statement, the WOGCC acknowledged the suit and explained its process for determining whether an operator’s request for a trade secret exemption is valid. The commission’s staff members follow commission rules in place since 2010 and state public records law when reviewing such requests, the WOGCC said.
Gov. Matt Mead emphasized Wyoming rules for disclosure of fracking fluid contents, the first in the nation, have served as a model for other states who want to avoid federal regulation of fracking.
“Wyoming led the nation in requiring the disclosure of hydraulic fracturing components. I believe the disclosure requirements were well done,” he said. “We will watch this case closely to determine if either the rules or the administration of the rules need work. If improvements need to be made, we will make them.”