Journalism in the Public Interest

Wyoming Fracking Rules Would Disclose Drilling Chemicals

New rules place Wyoming at the forefront of the national push to disclose chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing.  Residents in drilling areas have complained about contamination of their wells that they believe is from fracking.


A drilling rig in Wyoming. (Abrahm Lustgarten/ProPublica)

New rules going into effect Wednesday will place Wyoming at the forefront of the national push to disclose chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, the drilling technique that’s been suspected of polluting groundwater in parts of the country with vast reservoirs of untapped natural gas.

If the rules work as promised, they should provide the most comprehensive accounting yet of exactly what substances drilling companies are injecting into particular wells, a level of specificity that goes beyond disclosures in Pennsylvania and New York, two states where drilling has been controversial.

As we reported last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is also pressing companies for more information about the chemicals in fluids, something they say is a trade secret. The agency holds the last in a series of community meetings on hydraulic fracturing, called fracking, on Wednesday in New York.

The new Wyoming rules say companies must submit to the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission a full list of chemicals they plan to use in fracking operations on a well-by-well basis. Companies will also have to report the concentration of each chemical used once the job is done.

Drillers retain the right to claim that certain details of the chemical mix are proprietary and should be kept confidential. It remains unclear to what extent industry will make this claim, but the commission’s supervisor, Tom Doll, expects those cases will be the exception.

“What we’ve explained to the operators and what we expect is each of these components, whatever is in that mix, will have to be disclosed,” he said.

If so, the Wyoming rules would offer the most detailed look so far at the composition of drilling fluids.

While the EPA has sought disclosure, the agency said the list of chemicals would be kept confidential. In Pennsylvania, a couple of companies responded to public concerns by partially disclosing the chemicals used there. The companies list hazardous components and their concentration by well, but do not provide a full list of chemicals.

New York and Pennsylvania have published lists of chemicals used, but these lists simply name chemicals that may be in any given well and do not detail the mixtures or concentrations. New York has proposed but not yet adopted rules similar to Wyoming’s.

Wyoming’s rules require companies to list a unique identifier for each chemical. Drillers must give a list of chemicals they plan to use before drilling for commission approval. After the job is done, they must report what they ended up using.

Environmental groups say the jury is out on what ultimately will become public.

“The devil’s in the details, and I’m sure there’ll be lots of discussion about what can be proprietary,” said Deb Thomas, an organizer with the Powder River Basin Resource Council, which has pushed for tighter regulation and full disclosure of fracking fluids.

If a company argues certain chemical mixtures are proprietary secrets, Doll said it would be up to the Wyoming commission, chaired by Gov. Dave Freudenthal, or state courts to rule on disclosure. If a claim of trade secrets were upheld, companies still must disclose the full list to regulators but the information would be kept from the public.

John Robitaille, vice president of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, said the industry does not expect problems complying with the rules.

Wyoming officials have expressed concerns that the federal government may step in to regulate fracking on state lands. In March, Doll was quoted saying that the coming rules, prompted by Freudenthal, were specifically intended to preclude EPA regulation by requiring greater disclosure.

A spokeswoman for the governor said that was only part of his motivation.

“One thing was the governor’s concern in how he answered the average person’s question: Governor, how do I know this is safe?” said Leigh Anne Manlove. “There’s also a belief that Wyoming is best able to regulate what happens in Wyoming.”

Thomas applauded the Wyoming oil and gas commission’s move, but questioned the governor’s motives. As ProPublica reported earlier this month, the EPA recently warned residents of a Wyoming town about noxious chemicals lacing their water supply, saying people should use fans while bathing or washing clothes to avoid the risk of explosion. The agency is investigating whether extensive drilling nearby is the source of the pollution.

“He should be wanting these rules to protect the people that live in this state,” Thomas said of Freudenthal, “not to keep the federal government out of the state.”

Enforcement is another issue. Drilling companies are supposed to post a notice including the list of chemicals for each well they plan to drill. Doll said his inspectors will check to ensure compliance, but he said he has only 12 of them. Last year, he said, about 3,200 fracking operations were performed in the state.

“We won’t hit every one of them,” he said. “You can’t do that with 12 people.”

It’s a shame they didn’t do this years ago. But it shows that sometimes our government do listen to the people.

Take heed gop.

Disclosing what they are poisoning the water, air and soil with does nothing to return power to the people affected to make governing decisions for their own communities. “Full disclosure” of how corporations buy our elections and legislatures wouldn’t change anything either. It’s not just information we need. It is a cessation of the denial of the fundamental right to self-government, where corporations that are chartered and privileged by the state, in our name, are subordinate to the legitimate governance by the people. Democratic decision-making isn’t a matter of who has the best science; it is a matter of the people getting the best information they ALREADY have a right to, and making a judgment about what level of risk to which they are willing to expose their families, households, communities and environment. This debate over “proprietary” ingredients is a diversion from the real issue: the rights of communities and people to self-govern.

The pumping of toxic chemicals and chemical compounds into the ground should be immediately halted. All past pollutions should be revealed. Are we so desperate for natural gas that we risk our most precious resource -groundwater. What are these folks thinking? This “proprietary” smokescreen is outrageous. Who else gets to intentionally introduce toxic mixtures of unknown properties into the ecosystem without oversight? Let’s start talking Superfund to these companies to see how that changes the bottom line.

The majority of citizens would not have a clue if the chemicals were listed.  The generic citizen need help with understanding what the chemicals are and their effects.  Let’s assume that these companies win the argument that chemicals are proprietary - then what will they submit, a Periodic Table and say, see, these are what we use? 

The bottom line is that non-chemist haven’t a clue as to what is and is not toxic in either the short or long term.  Soon the fraking companies will roll out the argument that “even water can kill you” and the Trust Us argument.  We’ve been there, done that and only after many deaths has anyone stepped in to try and fight these companies. 

It is time to be proactive and demand Before The Fact Disclosure.

Richard Garrett

Sep. 15, 2010, 10:43 a.m.

In 2009, the Wyoming legislature voted overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution supporting hydraulic fracturing and the non-disclosure of chemicals used in the process.  Against that backdrop, it is a remarkable achievement by Governor Freudenthal and the Wyoming Oil and Gas Commission to pry open industry’s door of secrecy to a measure of transparency.

I agree that corporations are slowly but surely taking over control of our government.  Especially since the Supreme court granted them the right to contribute essentially unlimited funds for campaigns.  That is outrageous. 

However, we really don’t need to politicize this problem.  Work with the facts and the regulations.  Companies/people are injecting unknown chemicals into the subsurface and these chemicals are very likely getting into local aquifers and drinking water supplies.  I don’t know of any information that confirms the local residents in WY were having these water quality problems and explosion hazards before the fracing started. Is there any such information?

Active business/industry is regulated under RCRA (CFR40 Resource Conservation & Recovery Act).  They need to be compliant with RCRA regulations.  In this situation they are definitely not in compliance with the regulations and laws.  Let EPA do its job and enforce RCRA regualtions.  This will require groundwater monitoring at every well site to determine if any hazardous chemicals are being released into the soil and groundwater.  Then there will be hard data at evey well site to clearly define if anything is being released to the environment/subsurface and exactly what it is. 

State regulations must meet or exceed Fed EPA regulations by law if they are to be allowed to enforce the environmetnal laws within the state.  If WY meets these requirements and truly enforces the state regulations this issue should be addressed.  The question is whether the state will actually enforce the regulations.

There should be no reason why these chemicals used should be cloaked in secrecy. If these chemicals show up in drinking water and there is good evidence it does then it is criminal not to disclose. Manufactures of food must reveal ingredients. Again an example of our Gov’t allowing special interests to rule at the expense of the American people.

I’ll bet if the state of Wyoming and other states where fracking is taking place made it manditory for the executives to take up residence on the lands where the wells are located to prove how safe or unsafe this this process really is.

Patrick Walker

Sep. 16, 2010, 6:21 a.m.

In Pennsylvania, where I live, we’re currently pushing our legislators to enact the highest severance tax in the nation. At least part of the motivation for keeping it high is to give a tax rebate to all nonleasers who get their water tested to a level adequate to hold up in court.

After never consulting us at all about whether we wanted gas drilling, with its huge third-party impacts, in our state, PA owes us at least this minimum protection. As John Quigley, Secretary of PA’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources eloquently said, “These companies privatize profit and socialize cost.” In the name of the common good, this has to stop.

Here is a very informative interview from a 30 year veteran of the gas and oil industry, James Northrup. Listen closely.

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:

Fracking: Gas Drilling’s Environmental Threat

The promise of abundant natural gas is colliding with fears about water contamination.

The Story So Far

The country’s push to find clean domestic energy has zeroed in on natural gas, but cases of water contamination have raised serious questions about the primary drilling method being used. Vast deposits of natural gas, large enough to supply the country for decades, have brought a drilling boom stretching across 31 states. The drilling technique being used, called hydraulic fracturing, shoots water, sand and toxic chemicals into the ground to break up rock and release the gas.

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