Coalition Seeks Greater Public Access to Information About Chemicals Used in Fracking
Today a coalition of conservation groups, landowners, and public health advocates petitioned the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation to provide broader public disclosure of information about the chemicals used for hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”
The coalition, represented by the non-profit environmental law firm Earthjustice and led by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Montana Environmental Information Center, requested common-sense changes to the Board’s rules to ensure that Montana citizens who live and farm near fracking operations have access to chemical information they need to safeguard their property, health, and environment. The petition is also supported by the Alternative Energy Resources Organization (AERO), property owners, and agricultural producers.
“Montanans have the right to know what is being pumped into the ground around their homes, farms, and ranches,” said Earthjustice attorney Katherine O’Brien, who drafted the petition on behalf of the coalition. “There is no reason why Montanans should have less access to basic information about the potentially harmful chemicals used in fracking than their neighbors in Wyoming.”
Fracking involves pumping millions of gallons of chemical-laced water underground at high pressure to release oil and gas deposits. Numerous fracking chemicals are toxic or carcinogenic to humans, who may be exposed to the chemicals through surface spills of fracking fluids, groundwater contamination, and chemical releases into the air. Studies have documented adverse health effects in people who live or use water wells near fracking operations.
In light of these risks to human health, private property, and the environment, the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation requires oil and gas operators to disclose to the public the chemicals used to hydraulically fracture oil and gas wells in Montana. But, the groups argue in their petition, the Board’s existing rules contain two major flaws.
First, the rules do not require public disclosure of the specific chemicals in fracking fluids until a fracking job is completed, which frustrates nearby residents’ ability to assess the risks to their health and property and conduct effective baseline testing of their water supplies.
Second, the rules allow oil and gas operators to keep confidential any chemical information they claim to be a trade secret. Unlike in Wyoming, Montana’s rules do not provide for any state oversight of trade secret claims to ensure they are valid. These loopholes in the disclosure rules unfairly deprive Montanans of important chemical information and violate the public’s right to know and right to a clean and healthful environment under the Montana Constitution.
“What’s the point of a fracking chemical disclosure rule that allows the oil and gas industry to keep the chemicals they use secret?” asked Amanda Jahshan, the Wildlife Energy Conservation Fellow for NRDC. “Montanans have a right to know what chemicals are being blasted underground in their own backyards, alongside their drinking water. Transparency is critical to protecting public health and our communities.”
“In Montana, water is our most important natural resource. We need to have stringent safeguards in place to assure that we protect our clean water,” stated Derf Johnson, Water Program Director for MEIC.
Montana law gives citizens the right to petition state agencies such as the Board of Oil and Gas Conservation to request amendments to agency regulations. The Board has 60 days to take action on the petition.