State Regulators Vote to Require Fracking Disclosure :
By: Jerry Brown
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) voted December 13 to require disclosure of chemicals used by oil and gas drillers for hydraulic fracturing, after a compromise was reached between industry and environmental interests.
The amended rules require that operators post the hazardous and non-hazardous chemicals used to hydraulically fracture a well, as well as the concentrations of each chemical, to the disclosure website www.FracFocus.org. Disclosure must be made within 60 days of completion of hydraulic fracturing.
According to a news release from the governor's office, the rules strike a balance by recognizing and protecting industry trade secrets.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves pumping water and chemicals deep underground to fracture layers of rock and free oil and gas trapped within the rocks so they can be brought to the surface. The practice is controversial because of concerns it may contaminate underground sources of drinking water. The oil and gas industry says there is no danger to drinking water.
Fracking in Colorado
The practice is key to the dramatically increased recent estimates of domestic natural gas and oil reserves. Anadarko recently estimated that the Wattenberg Field, based in Colorado’s Weld County, holds reserves of between 500 million and 1.5 billion gallons of oil equivalent.
Gov. John Hickenlooper hailed the new rules. “These new rules give Colorado the fairest and most transparent set of fracking regulations in the country and will likely serve as a model for other states,” Hickenlooper said. “We commend everyone involved for coming together to create a chemical disclosure rule that marks another big step forward for Colorado’s responsible regulation of this important industry. We believe oil and gas development can thrive while also meeting our high standards for protection of public health, water and the environment.”
Confidential business information is already protected by state laws, including the Colorado Open Records Act and the Colorado Uniform Trade Secrets Act, and major federal environmental statutes. Regulators and medical professionals, however, can still obtain trade secret information upon request under the rules. Further, operators must file a form ensuring trade secret claims meet the appropriate definition, and sign an affidavit – under penalty of perjury – that chemicals cited qualify for trade secret protection.
Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado said the rules are a strong step forward for Colorado and local communities.
"It's vital that the industry does everything possible to show the public in a transparent way that hydraulic fracking is being done in a safe manner,'' Udall said. "It's also important that the state continues to provide strong oversight and require a transparent process. I've always said that one well contaminated or one person made sick is one too many.
"Fracking is a common technology that has been used for over a decade and, when done correctly, it can be effective in helping to produce the energy we need, while creating jobs and lifting Colorado's economy. But it has to be done without damaging our public health or environment. Requiring oil and gas drillers to disclose all the chemicals used in fracking fluids will help to assure Coloradans that the state is providing the oversight and the transparency needed to protect their health and their communities."
Western Resource Advocates, a Boulder-based environmental organization, called the decision an important step.
“The disclosure compromise is a model for future collaborative efforts where industry concerns are balanced against the need to protect Colorado’s water as drilling expands across the state,” said lands program director Mike Chiropolos. “This is an important step in creating the necessary protections for Colorado families, but there is more work to be done.”
Western Resource Advocates has identified three priorities for the COGCC to consider in future rulemaking:
1. Implementing the STRONGER committee recommendations to improve the safety of well construction and fracking operations.
2. A mandatory program for baseline testing, monitoring and tracers to protect our water quality.
3. Increased residential setbacks from the current minimum levels (150 feet for rural areas; 350 feet for urban areas).
Baseline testing and monitoring is urgently needed in light of oil and gas industry challenges to a recent landmark Environmental Protection Agency report indicating water contamination from fracking in Pavillion, Wyoming, the group argues.
“Baseline testing can help eliminate the he said/she said arguments over contamination so that we can focus on keeping people safe,” said Chiropolos. “One sick person is one too many. The Commission should continue to be proactive in 2012 in order to protect Colorado families and our water.”
There are currently 45,000 active oil and gas wells in Colorado, and more than 5,000 new permits were approved in 2010 alone. For more information on the fracking disclosure ruling, go to http://cogcc.state.co.us/.
Tisha Schuller, president and CEO, of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association (COGA) said the compromise reached on strong disclosure rules showed what is possible when industry, regulators and environmental groups work together.
Communities don’t have to wait until the new rules go into effect on February 1 to get information about what chemicals are being used, Schuller said. Many companies are already disclosing their drilling fluids “on a well-by-well basis” on the website FracFocus.org, she said.
And COGA announced a voluntary statewide water-sampling program this fall that calls for water samples to be taken before and after drilling beginning after the first of the year.
“Ninety percent of all operators who drilled in Colorado during the past year have committed to participate,” Schuller said. “Our goal is to get to 100 percent.” She said the program is modeled after a 10-year-old COGCC water-sampling program in the San Juan Basin.
“In 10 years they’ve accumulated a lot of data,” Schuller said. COGA will share the data collected through its program with the commission and she said “the commission estimates that in one year our program will double the amount of data they have.”
“We believe the combination of the commission’s (disclosure) proposal and our water sampling program will be very compelling for communities” eager to obtain information about whether hydraulic fracturing is affecting groundwater, Schuller said.
Jerry Brown | 303-781-8787 | 303-594-8016 (mobile) | email@example.com