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Groups: Close trade-secrets loophole in Colorado fracking disclosure rule

Photo by Jack Dempsey- North Park, Colorado

By Judith Kohler

12/2/2011_DENVER – Conservation groups are taking aim at a loophole in a proposed state rule that will let  companies drilling in Colorado off the hook when it comes to disclosing what they’re injecting underground during ``fracking.’’

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission held a hearing Monday, Dec 5, in Denver on a rule requiring disclosure of fluids in hydraulic fracturing. The commission heard from landowners, home owners, elected officials and representatives from conservation groups and the industry and is scheduled to consider the rule in its meeting Dec. 12 in Greeley.

The rule would require mandatory disclosure of fracking fluids – except when it doesn’t. That could be all the time if, as the proposal would allow, companies declare the chemicals to be trade secrets.

If state regulators approve the rule as written, drillers could label their fracking recipes as trade secrets without justification, explanation or certification. There would be no review by agencies and no direct means of appealing companies’ claims.

``If you’re pumping potentially dangerous chemicals into the ground, it’s only basic fairness and common sense that you be required to let the public know what’s going in there,” says National Wildlife Federation attorney Michael Saul. “But Colorado’s proposed rule lets drillers off the hook by letting them claim anything and everything is a trade secret, without requiring them to back up those claims or letting the public contest them. We need a fair disclosure rule, not one that’s hollowed out by a single giant loophole.”

At the very least, Saul said, the Commission should consider approaches similar to those of Arkansas’ disclosure rule, requiring companies to give a ``bare-bones’’ justification of trade secret claims. Conservationists also insist on a clearly defined path for review of unfounded trade-secrets claims.

Fracking, which involves injecting water, sand and chemicals underground at high pressure, creates openings in tight sands and shale to help release oil and gas. Advances in the technology have opened new areas to development, but also raised concerns about effects on groundwater, air quality and spills of the fluids brought back to the surface. A recent report by the National Wildlife Federation details the questions  about the process and makes recommendations for developing energy without potentially fouling our air and water and endangering human health and wildlife.

Colorado environmental and community groups asked state officials in a Nov. 15 letter to close the trade-secrets loophole to ensure the state has ``in place the nation’s most effective hydraulic fracturing disclosure rule.’’

``I’m here to speak for the critters who can’t speak for themselves -- the fish and wildlife of Colorado,’’ Bill Dvorak, a fly-fishing and river outfitter and NWF public lands organizer, told the commission.

Spills of fracking fluids containing toxic chemicals can have significant impacts on wildlife habitat as well as harm the economies that rely on those habitats being healthy, Dvorak added.