BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Landowners, environmentalists and public health workers petitioned Montana regulators on Tuesday to require companies to more fully divulge which “fracking” chemicals they use to produce oil and gas.
Dozens of chemicals, some of them hazardous to human health and the environment, are used as part of the process technically known as hydraulic fracturing, in which millions of gallons of fluid are pumped deep underground to release oil and gas trapped in shale or other rock formations.
A 2011 state rule allows companies to conceal chemicals they consider to be trade secrets. Officials can request the full ingredients list in the event of a spill or release of the fluids.
Critics say the trade secrets exception represents an unlawful loophole, violating the public’s right to know about chemicals that can contaminate groundwater and pollute the air.
Tuesday’s legal petition, from a coalition represented by the environmental law firm Earthjustice, asks the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation to tighten its rules.
Earthjustice attorney Katherine O’Brien says companies should have to justify any fracking ingredients withheld, as is done in Wyoming. Also, disclosures should be made before drilling starts instead of after it’s completed, she said.
“It’s important for people who are living and farming and ranching near fracking operations to understand what chemicals they are being exposed to right now. It doesn’t necessarily take a spill to pose a health risk,” O’Brien said. “There’s really no reason Montana deserves less access than their neighbors in Wyoming.”
Oil and gas board Administrator Jim Halvorson says the 2011 rule was crafted to conform with state and federal laws allowing companies to keep confidential proprietary information about what’s in their fracking fluids.
“The board felt that its proposed rule was adequate at the time it was adopted,” he said. “We’ll review the petition for rulemaking and make a decision after that’s been done.”
The matter is likely to come up at the board’s August 11 work meeting, Halvorson added.
State law gives the board 60 days to either reject the request or begin a new rule-making process.