Bill for more fracking chemical disclosure, groundwater testing dies

— January 28, 2013

Last week Wyoming’s petroleum industry helped kill draft legislation that would give greater power to landowners to challenge Wyoming’s trade secret exemption in the disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

Dustin Bleizeffer

Senate File 157 also mandated that oil and natural gas operators conduct baseline testing of groundwater aquifers prior to drilling and fracking, a requirement aimed at having the data necessary to hold operators liable for potential spills and water contamination. During his tenure, Wyoming’s former oil and gas supervisor Tom Doll said he had strongly encouraged oil and gas operators to conduct baseline testing, in part, because it could also potentially exonerate companies if a question of groundwater and drinking water contamination ever arose. But it was never made a requirement.

Although SF 157 is dead, Wyoming will revisit both major goals of the legislation — higher bar for the trade secret exemption, and required baseline testing — through other avenues in coming months.

First, a Casper district court judge is expected to rule within 60 days on a lawsuit challenging Wyoming’s trade secret exemption in the disclosure of fracking chemicals. If the environmental and landowner advocacy groups that brought suit win, it will likely raise the bar for trade secret exemptions and possibly mandate disclosure to interested parties, particularly landowners near drilling and fracking operations.

Advocates for full chemical disclosure say the outcome of that court decision might not be as thorough as proposed under SF 157. It’s believed that Wyoming’s executive branch isn’t itching to intervene if the judge rules in favor of more disclosure. “We don’t know what it would look like if we lost. If we do (lose), we will change our practice,” said Jerimiah Rieman, policy advisor to Gov. Matt Mead.

“If it’s secret, then don’t use it. If you’re using it, be ready to disclose it,” Richard Garrett, energy and legislative advocate with the Wyoming Outdoor Council, said of fracking chemicals. “It’s in everybody’s interest; our economy depends on it, our jobs depend on it, our groundwater depends on it, and future generations do, too.”

This graphic explains the hydraulic fracking process. (Al Granberg/ProPublica — click to enlarge)

In 2010, Wyoming became the first state in the nation to require disclosure of fracking chemicals. Promulgated through rule-making by the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the mandate includes a trade secret exemption which landowner advocates say is granted too often, unnecessarily avoiding the true nature of the rulemaking; full disclosure to interested parties.

Baseline testing 

With regard to SF 157’s mandate of baseline groundwater testing, the matter will be pursued by either the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) or the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission in rule-making rather in statute by the legislature, according to those close to the issue. Wyoming DEQ might be the avenue since that agency deals in water quality. However, if the state doesn’t address baseline groundwater testing through rule-making in the interim, it’s believed that a bill will again come before lawmakers during next year’s legislative session.

Petroleum industry officials said their main objection to SF 157’s baseline testing requirement is that it would have necessarily required drilling new water testing and monitoring wells, rather than simply test existing water wells in proximity to drilling operations. That, said Bruce Hinchey, president of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, is an unreasonable, added expense.

“As proposed, we are opposed. We don’t think it’s necessary and it’s very costly.”

Some proponents of groundwater testing as proposed in SF 157 said they are encouraged that the governor’s office and Wyoming lawmakers have given solid support to funding the monitoring and clean-up of leaky landfills across the state in recent years, and said they hoped that state leaders eventually will view baseline testing in the oil and gas industry similarly.

In debate about continued appropriations toward addressing landfill pollution, House Speaker Rep. Tom Lubnau (R-Gillette) said, “If it (landfill pollution) gets into our water that’s the worst legacy we can leave.”

Richard Garrett said, “Oil and gas is much bigger deal (than leaky landfills), covering 40 percent of our landscape.”

Click here for more of WyoFile’s ongoing Legislature 2013 coverage.

— Dustin Bleizeffer is WyoFile editor-in-chief. Reach him at 307-577-6069 or dustin@wyofile.com. Follow Dustin on Twitter @DBleizeffer.

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Dustin Bleizeffer

Dustin Bleizeffer is a Report for America Corps member covering energy and climate at WyoFile. He has worked as a coal miner, an oilfield mechanic, and for 22 years as a statewide reporter and editor primarily...

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3 Comments

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  1. Randy- please enlighten us on why you think your operation cannot contribute to groundwater contamination. Explain further why this could never happen. Also line out for us the reasons you hold to this when we know that every well fracked is unique and requires different techniques and ” recipe” for the frack job.

    Why should we believe you or any operator that fracking is always safe if done right and wells never go out of control or produce unintended consequences.

    Be sp[ecific.

    My own OPINION is based on the fact that all the water in Wyoming—whether running above ground in a streambed, running down a permitted irrigation ditch , running down a gutter in town after a cloudburst , but ALSo all the groundwater beneath us seen known or unseen and unknown—all that water belongs to the people of Wyoming and the State adjudicates it and controls it, QED. To regulate fracking on the basis of protecting the water supply behalf of the water owners present and future does not seem unreasonable at all, and in fact follows 2,000 years of riparian law going back to the Roman Empire whence all modern water law came.

    Why does industry try so hard to hide the chemical recipes if they , as you say , have no fear of being culpable about possible groundwater misfeasance? There should be no secrets when it comes to water, and the chemistry ain’t all that sacred.
    So ?
    *
    I worked around the patch for years, by the way. I learned to never trust the corporations, and as soon as you turn your back or avert your vision , they go off the reservation… if they thought they could get away with it. And they did.

  2. So, what unique insight do you offer regarding any oilfield operations? You are, of course, entitled to your opinion but you are NOT entitled to your own facts. Looks like the industry objection (in Wyoming) was the drilling of monitoring wells as opposed to (simply) testing existing water wells. I work as a regulatory professional and my company has established a baseline groundwater report in our operating area. I know other operators are doing the same thing, voluntarily. We are not worried about our operations contributing to groundwater contamination. We are simply protecting ourselves from potential FALSE claims that select landowners seem to be willing to engage in regarding this issue. Looks like the only folks that are (really) covering their eyes & ears may be folks like you who just make broad assumptions about how & why things work in the oil & gas industry…

  3. Wyoming legislators: we don’t want to know anything that might be critical of fracking and the fossil fuel industry. Lalalalalalalalalalalala (while covering eyes and ears).