CHC in the press – GJ Sentinel “Frack disclosure rules dissected at Hearing”

CHC board member Robin Smith attended a COGCC hearing in Denver on Monday, December 5 to tell the COGCC that citizens of Delta County want full disclosure of fracking chemicals – “No Exceptions, no loopholes.” 

Below is coverage from the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

Frack disclosure rule dissected at hearing

By Dennis Webb

For years and years, Tresi Houpt has heard the stories over and over.

When she served as a Garfield County commissioner and member of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, residents repeatedly told her about dizziness, headaches, coughing up blood, and even tumors they believed were caused by nearby oil and gas development.

Those kinds of stories were on Houpt’s mind as she testified at a state hearing Monday on proposed rules to require public disclosure of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells.

“It is critical as we move forward to make sure that we have full disclosure of those chemicals so that we understand the types of impacts that people have” from energy development, Houpt said.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission held an 11-hour hearing Monday on a proposal developed at Gov. John Hickenlooper’s request to help address public concerns about potential environmental impacts from the practice. In hydraulic fracturing, fluids or gels are injected under high pressure into wells to crack open formations and foster oil and gas flow.

The commission made no decision on the proposal Monday and plans to deliberate the matter at a time to be determined next Monday or Tuesday.

Houpt was among several witnesses Monday who said the proposed rule would be much stronger if disclosure had to occur before the fracking began.

Advance disclosure is necessary in order to know what chemicals to look for in baseline water testing that determines groundwater conditions before fracking begins, they said. Such test results can be compared against results of tests done after fracking occurs.

As drafted, the disclosure wouldn’t have to occur until 60 days after fracking occurred at a well.

Wyoming requires advance disclosure of a well’s proposed fracking constituents. Deb Thomas, a citizen activist on drilling issues there, said the result is more targeted baseline water testing that also protects energy companies by helping determine where responsibility lies if contamination is found.

Curtis Rueter, an executive with Noble Energy, said evidence of contamination from drilling can be determined now by testing for methane and other hydrocarbons that are produced during drilling.

Colorado Oil and Gas Commission Director Dave Neslin said the substances used in fracturing often end up differing from those companies plan to use ahead of time.

He worries about an increased regulatory burden for his agency if it will be expected to review substances companies plan to use.

Jim Miller, a water engineer and the secretary of the Colorado Water Utility Council, said some of that burden could be shared by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. His group supports advance disclosure, and Miller said that more generally, if meaningful disclosure doesn’t occur, local governments would respond with more ordinances designed to protect watersheds.

Weld County Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer took issue with contentions Monday that Colorado’s disclosure rule would end up weaker than those being adopted in other states. She said it’s important not to put extra burdens on industry without good reason.

“Maybe our rule isn’t weaker. Maybe Colorado actually is getting it right,” she said.

Ray Jennings, EMS chief in Grand County, said emergency responders should be provided full disclosure of fracking chemicals in advance to able to respond with proper safety precautions.

“It would be horrible to wait until a disaster occurs before we receive the information,” he said.

Jennings said emergency officials could protect any confidential information that they receive.

Much of Monday’s hearing continued to focus on a controversial provision allowing trade secret exemptions from disclosures.

“Industry must not be allowed to hide behind trade secrets. No exceptions, no loopholes,” said Robin Smith of Citizens for a Healthy Community in Delta County.

But oil and gas commission staff say existing state and federal laws protect trade secrets as intellectual property. Neslin said he doesn’t think the commission is legally authorized to prohibit trade secret exemptions — a position also taken by Ken Wonstolen, an attorney representing the Colorado Oil and Gas Association.

Commission staff say a random survey of 300 voluntary disclosures on the FracFocus website showed that trade secret claims were made for 5.8 percent of chemicals listed, and no such claims were made in 63 percent of the disclosure forms. But oil and gas commissioner Rich Alward of Grand Junction said that’s based on voluntary reporting on fracked wells, and reports may not have been filed for other wells because of trade secret concerns.

In a document released late last week, commission staff said that various parties have raised a number of issues about the proposed rules, but “these issues should not obscure the support of all parties for some form of mandatory public disclosure of hydraulic fracturing chemicals.”

Tisha Schuller, president and chief executive officer of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said Monday, “We’ve come to the table and engaged in a meaningful way. We understand that disclosure is important to the public.”

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