By Jerry Brown
The battle lines are already being drawn as the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) prepares to hear public comments Dec. 5 on the state's proposal to require disclosure of chemicals used by oil and gas drillers for hydraulic fracturing.
Western Resource Advocates, a Boulder-based environmental organization, issued a statement urging the commission to close a "loophole" it said would allow "oil and gas companies to withhold information by claiming a broad and loosely-defined 'trade secret' exemption."
"We need to make sure that companies can't just say, 'Hey, that's a trade secret–end of discussion,'" Mike Chiropolos, WRA's lands program director, said in a written statement. "'Trade Secret' can’t just be an answer on a form. Knowing what might get in our water is too important to the health and safety of Colorado residents."
"We need to get closer to full disclosure," added Jason Bane, WRA’s communications manager. "We feel fuller disclosure will serve as a disincentive to using dangerous chemicals. Industry will think twice and see if there’s a better alternative if they have to disclose the chemicals they’re using."
But Tisha Schuller, president and CEO, of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association (COGA) said the concern raised by WRA has already been addressed.
"Under existing regulations, that (trade secret) information already must be made available to the commission and to healthcare providers," Schuller said.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper unveiled the proposed disclosure rules in August at COGA's annual meeting in Denver.
Schuller said her organization supports the "concept and spirit" of the proposed rules but said COGA is withholding judgment on the specifics until it finishes studying the language in the proposal.
Schuller said communities don't have to wait until the new rules go into effect on February 1 to get information about what chemicals are being used. Many companies are already disclosing their drilling fluids "on a well-by-well basis" on the website FracFocus.org, she said.
And COGA announced a voluntary statewide water-sampling program this fall that calls for water samples to be taken before and after drilling beginning after the first of the year.
"Ninety percent of all operators who drilled in Colorado during the past year have committed to participate," Schuller said. "Our goal is to get to 100 percent." She said the program is modeled after a 10-year-old COGCC water-sampling program in the San Juan Basin.
"In 10 years they've accumulated a lot of data," Schuller said. COGA will share the data collected through its program with the commission and she said "the commission estimates that in one year our program will double the amount of data they have."
"We believe the combination of the commission's (disclosure) proposal and our water sampling program will be very compelling for communities" eager to obtain information about whether hydraulic fracturing is affecting groundwater, Schuller said.