The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has announced a new state rule on hydraulic fracturing that requires full disclosure of the substances used in the fracking process. The rule is one of the strongest in the country and Earthjustice’s Denver office was actively involved in shaping the decision.
“This rule is an important step forward that will provide Coloradans with information they need to ensure the safety of their drinking water, air and health, said Earthjustice staff attorney Michael Freeman. “While the conservation community did not get everything it wanted, Colorado’s disclosure rule provides a good foundation for ensuring that hydraulic fracturing is done safely in this state.”
The version of the rule originally proposed by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission staff would have given companies broad leeway in shielding chemicals from public view by declaring them trade secrets. Under the draft of the proposed rule, the privilege of trade secrets status would have been handed out with virtually no questions asked.
Under the compromise rule adopted today, however, companies will need to justify and certify their trade secret claims under penalty of perjury. The rule also endorses a broad interpretation of legal standing for citizens to challenge companies’ trade secret claims.
“We are pleased we could reach a reasonable compromise on protecting legitimate trade secrets while ensuring that all types of fracking chemicals and their concentrations are reported to the public,” said Charlie Montgomery, Energy Organizer at Colorado Environmental Coalition.
“Colorado has taken a strong first step to addressing public health and environmental concerns from fracking,” said Matt Reed, public lands director of the High Country Citizens Alliance. “The new disclosure rule, while not perfect, adds transparency to what has been a secretive process. The result will be a better-informed public, recourse for citizens to pursue violations of the rule, and ultimately a better understanding of what chemicals are going into the ground and where.”
While the volume of chemicals in any single operation may be small, fracking fluids can contain chemicals that are highly toxic, and the link between fracking and groundwater contamination is now under renewed scrutiny. Fracking is a short-hand term for “hydraulic fracturing,” the process of breaking apart subsurface soil and rock using high-pressure water, sand and chemicals.
“Colorado citizens are justifiably worried about the practice of fracking and deserve full confidence that the state is protecting the quality of their air, water and soil,” said Josh Joswick, energy issues organizer of San Juan Citizens Alliance. “Frack chemicals still remain a mystery, and just last week the federal government announced that there may be a link between fracking and groundwater contamination in Wyoming. Coloradoans have a right to be concerned, and will watch as this rule is implemented.”
Environmental groups applauded Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper for starting the process and allowing the commission staff to develop the rule, and then helping all parties reach a successful agreement.
“The governor jumped into the fray at a moment of impasse to help all of us reach a positive conclusion,” said Montgomery. “We’re eager to continue working with the governor and our other elected officials, as well as with industry, to ensure Colorado remains at the forefront of balancing the interests of development with common-sense protections for our communities.”
In the negotiations, Earthjustice represented the Colorado Environmental Coalition, Earthworks Oil and Gas Accountability Project, National Wildlife Federation, San Juan Citizens Alliance and High Country Citizens Alliance, and also worked closely with the Environmental Defense Fund.
“Overall, we are pleased with the strength of this rule,” said Freeman. “While all sides made compromises in the rulemaking, the requirement for disclosure of all chemicals and concentrations in fracking fluids makes Colorado a leader in state disclosure policy.”