On Wednesday, the Wyoming Supreme Court revived a lawsuit against the state’s energy regulator, the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (WOGCC), calling for a review of the agency’s decision to allow Halliburton and other companies to conceal information about the chemicals they use during the fracking process.
The high court ruled that a lower court must consider whether the state regulator complied with public records law when granting requests by energy companies for “trade secret” protection on fracking chemicals, Law360 reports.
The 2012 lawsuit, filed by the Powder River Basin Resource Council, the Wyoming Outdoor Council, Earthworks, and the Center for Effective Government, challenged WOGCC’s decision to grant industry requests for concealment and attempted to force Halliburton and other companies to disclose all the chemicals used in their fracking processes.
The groups claimed that the energy regulator “abused its discretion by granting 50 unjustified trade secret requests” by Halliburton and other energy companies. Without disclosure of the chemicals used in the fracking process, there is no way to determine the effects of the chemicals on public health and the environment.
The environmental watchdogs also alleged that WOGCC has repeatedly blocked their attempts to access documents containing information about disclosed fracking chemicals. Last year, a district court shot down the environmental groups’ attempt to force fracking chemical transparency.
The state’s Supreme Court on Wednesday declined to rule on whether individual fracking chemical ingredients can qualify as trade secrets. The high court said that “the district court would have to consider the claims under the WPRA [Wyoming Public Records Act] and ordered that the lower court use the FOIA definition of trade secrets in that determination,” according to Law360.
Wyoming was the first state in the nation to approve fracking regulations in 2010, requiring energy companies to disclose chemicals used in the fracking process, yet protections for trade secrets and confidential commercial information were made available.
In 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a draft report of an investigation of water contamination in the state, where residents have complained that fracking polluted their drinking water. The draft report stated that fracking was, in fact, responsible for the pollution of an aquifer beneath Pavillion, Wyoming – an area that has undergone extensive fracking.
The EPA dropped the study in 2013.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is exempted from significant EPA monitoring due to the Bush/Cheney Energy Policy Act of 2005, which excluded fracking from the Clean Water Act as well as the Safe Drinking Water Act. The exemption for fracking in the Safe Water Drinking Act is known as the “Halliburton Loophole.”
“The process of fracking can have devastating effects on water, air, and public health if not regulated, especially when companies can utilize dangerous chemicals without having to disclose any information about the chemicals used,” commented Emmie Paulos, an attorney with the Levin, Papantonio law firm who is involved in the BP oil spill litigation.