Critics Slam Loopholes in Montana Fracking Disclosure Rules

Regulators in Montana are set to impose a rule that would require natural gas and oil drillers in the state to disclose the ingredients in their fracking fluids, the cocktails of chemicals, sand and water used in hydraulic fracturing. However, some environmental groups say the proposed Montana fracking disclosure rules contain too many loopholes.

In hydraulic fracturing, fracking fluids are injected into the ground at high pressure to shake loose gas and oil deposits. Because of a loophole in the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, energy companies are not required to disclose the chemicals used in the fluids. The one exception applies to fracking fluid mixtures that contain diesel fuel.

Earlier this year, a report compiled by Democratic congressional staffers found that millions of gallons of dangerous chemicals, some cancer causing, were shot into wells in over 13 states during fracking activities from 2005 to 2009. According to the report, a number of frackers acknowledged injecting a total of 10 million gallons of “straight diesel fuel” during fracking, and another 22 million gallons of fracking fluid containing at least 30 percent diesel without having received permits from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

As fracking has become more widespread, some states have started requiring drillers to disclose the makeup of their fracking fluids. Texas is considering such a law, and Wyoming recently started requiring drillers to list the name and concentration of each of the chemicals used in every well drilled there. Arkansas imposed disclosure regulations in January; while in February, Pennsylvania began requiring drillers to disclose information on Materials Safety Data Sheets.

According to The Bozeman Daily Chronicle, The Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation (BOGC) will publish a rule today requiring energy companies to either file the chemical names used in fracking fluid with the state board or publish them on a nationwide website, FracFocus.org. The website shows what chemicals are used and in what proportion in each well.

But the proposed rule has at least one big loophole. Some fracking fluid information could be withheld if it’s “unique to the owner … and would, if disclosed, reveal methods or processes entitled to protection as trade secrets.” The industry says the loophole is needed to protect trademarked information.

But environmentalists see it differently. Yesterday, the Northern Pines Resource Council issued a statement criticizing the trade secrets provision.

“As a rancher who has leased the minerals, I expect to know what chemicals are being pumped into the ground so that I can protect my water resources from possible contamination,” Paul Hawks, a Melville-area rancher and member of Northern Plains Resource Council, said in the statement. “These rules fall short of fully revealing the chemicals used in fracking and leave the public still guessing about toxic chemicals that could affect their health, livestock, water, and land.

Hawks also pointed out that the new rules don’t require notice to landowners living near proposed wells so that they have the opportunity to test their baseline water quality prior to fracking.

The group also notes that the rules don’t provide easy public access to fracking chemicals information, as information will not be published on the BOGC website. Rather, paper records of the chemicals specific to each oil and gas well will be kept at the BOGC office in Billings, Montana.

The BOGC will hold a hearing next month to make a final decision on the new rules.

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