Judge sides with Wyoming in fracking chemical suit
CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — A judge in Casper has sided with the state of Wyoming and ruled against environmentalists who sought to obtain lists of the ingredients that go into hydraulic fracturing fluids.
Environmental groups had requested the ingredient lists from the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, arguing that the public needs to know what chemicals companies are putting underground.
They were denied on the grounds that the lists are trade secrets that may be withheld under Wyoming's open records law. Natrona County District Judge Catherine Wilking has upheld the denial, ruling that the state official who withheld the information acted reasonably.
The oil and gas commission oversees oil and gas drilling in Wyoming. The commission chairman, Gov. Matt Mead, praised the ruling.
"This decision recognizes the importance of a state-based approach to regulating hydraulic fracturing — one that balances this important method for producing energy with environmental protection," he said Monday through spokesman Renny MacKay.
The lawsuit was filed against the commission by the Powder River Basin Resource Council, Wyoming Outdoor Council, Earthworks and OMB Watch. Oilfield services company Halliburton intervened on the state's side.
"We continue to believe we have strong claims, and we're still concerned the Wyoming oil and gas commission is withholding this information from the public," said Shannon Anderson, an attorney for the resource council.
An appeal was an option, she said.
Specially formulated lubricants are used in fracking, which involves pumping water, fine sand and fracking fluids underground to split open oil- and gas-bearing rocks. One purpose of fracking fluids is to help the sand flow into newly formed fissures and keep them propped open.
In 2010, Wyoming became one of the first states to require companies to disclose to state regulators the ingredients in hydraulic fracturing chemicals. The goal was to help the regulators track the source of any groundwater contamination that might occur at or near a drilling site.
Environmentalists say public knowledge of the chemicals can help landowners near oil and gas projects know what types of pollution to test for in their groundwater. Such testing targeted at certain chemicals can be done before or while drilling occurs and help to establish that well water — at least at that point — is not polluted by those chemicals.
The specific formulations of certain fracking fluids are closely guarded corporate secrets, attorneys for Wyoming and oilfield services company Halliburton countered in arguments before Wilking in January.
Disclosure could allow competing companies to reverse-engineer fracking fluid formulas, they argued, and Wyoming's open-records law contains an exemption that allows trade secrets to be withheld from the public.
Wilking wrote that both positions have "substantial" merit.
"However the court feels these competing concerns are best addressed through legislative action, or further rule promulgation and are not properly within the court's purview," Wilking wrote.
She ruled that the state oil and gas supervisor in charge of the commission as a state agency acted reasonably in evaluating requests for trade secret exemptions under the fracking disclosure rule. The environmental groups failed to demonstrate that the supervisor didn't properly follow the rule or state law, she wrote.