DENVER – Colorado oil and gas commissioners heard 12 hours of debate over hydraulic fracturing Monday, but they delayed making a decision on a rule that would require companies to reveal the chemicals they use.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is considering forcing companies to use the FracFocus.org website to disclose which chemicals they use to frack wells. Critics said the commission’s plan is too weak because it would allow companies to exclude their fluids from the website’s list by calling them a trade secret.
David Neslin, director of the COGCC’s staff, said it’s important that companies be transparent about the fluids they use to extract gas and oil out of tight-rock formations.
“But it’s important to remember that it’s only one tool,” Neslin said.
Regulators and drillers have several lines of defense against pollution, Neslin said, including requirements for tight casings around well bores, supervision by the COGCC staff and tests that monitor water quality before and after drilling.
Mike Watts, a fracking expert for Halliburton, said his company has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to develop its fracking technology.
If Colorado requires Halliburton to disclose both the ingredients and concentrations of its chemicals, the company effectively would have to reveal its recipe and would lose its investment in technology.
“The hydraulic fracturing process itself is safe,” Watts said. “If it weren’t for hydraulic fracturing, there would be little or no oil and gas activity here in the state.”
Gas industry watchdogs recognize the need for limited use of trade secrets, said Michael Freeman, an Earthjustice lawyer who represented several groups, including the San Juan Citizens Alliance and the Oil and Gas Accountability Project.
“We feel the approach to trade secrets in the draft rule is deeply flawed, and in essence what it does is allow what amounts to an honor system,” Freeman said.
Other states, such as Wyoming and Arkansas, allow trade secret claims only if they are reviewed by state regulators. Colorado’s proposed rule would allow companies to get an exemption without review or appeal.
The hearing room was packed with more than 70 people, and at least 35 more crowded into the hallway outside.
Commissioners will meet next Monday in Greeley to deliberate the rule.