CASPER — State regulators will take more time to consider several proposed rule changes for the oil and gas industry, including more stringent reporting requirements regarding chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing.

Members of the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which includes Gov. Dave Freudenthal, indicated that while they want the new reporting requirements to be user-friendly for the industry, the industry is unlikely to escape more stringent requirements altogether.

“There’s got to be something that allows us to say we have carefully evaluated this activity,” Freudenthal said.

It’s unlikely there will be another public hearing on the matter, according to the commission.

After hearing three hours of testimony Tuesday morning in Casper, the commission said it would leave the matter open for 15 days and possibly schedule some type of work session to go over the draft rule changes with the commission’s staff.

The commission will likely make a final decision on the rules in June.

“I think we could continue this process for months and months trying to make this thing perfect, and I don’t think it would serve us well because we’d have people come in and try to do this for us,” said commissioner Bruce Williams.

National concerns

Hydraulic fracturing — or “fracking” — is the practice of pressurizing a mixture of sand and various fluids to fracture gas-bearing rock deep underground, creating pathways for the gas to flow toward a well bore.

Increasingly sophisticated fracking and horizontal drilling technologies are credited with unlocking about 100 years worth of new reserves in recent years, according to the industry.

But as the practice has become more widespread, it has also come under more scrutiny from environmental and public health advocates. They say there’s not enough information about the fluids being pumped underground and not enough assurances that chemicals in the fluids are not getting into drinking water sources.

In response, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in March launched a new research effort to investigate the potential adverse impacts of hydraulic fracturing on water quality and public health.

Reporting requirements

The practice is overseen by state-level regulators. And that’s just where industry and the state of Wyoming want the regulatory oversight to remain.

But Freudenthal said he doesn’t believe the state collects enough information from the industry about the fracking fluids to be able to tell the EPA what’s being pumped into Wyoming’s underground.

“I know you’re here to stiff-arm us,” Freudenthal told an attorney representing Halliburton. “But I’m not sure what we have is sufficient enough to look them (EPA) in the eyes and say we’re doing it right.”

According to Halliburton attorney Thomas Jackson, regulators already have access to the main chemical constituents through Material Safety Data Sheets — which are a common requirement in the workplace and list chemicals that employees and others may handle.

However, if a fluid mixture contains any carcinogens at levels of less than 1 percent, those carcinogens do not have to be listed in the MSDS.

Jackson said Wyoming’s proposed rule changes would require industry to report even those chemicals not listed in MSDS — and that would reveal enough information to compromise what Halliburton considers its proprietary formulas used in hydraulic fracturing.

Having to report every single chemical constituent to the commission would actually work as a disincentive for Halliburton to make the most effective products for the industry, Jackson said.

“There really is no demonstrated need for having this information reported on a routine basis,” Jackson said.

Jackson said that while the practice of hydraulic fracturing is not a threat to human health and the environment, Halliburton is concerned that if the state does collect a complete list of chemicals, human error among regulators may threaten the proprietary nature of its fracking formulas.

“We’re dealing with human beings, mistakes can happen,” Jackson said.

Shared burdens

In August 2006, drillers experienced a blow-out on a natural gas well near the town of Clark. There are now at least two plumes of contamination from oil and gas activity in the area.

Clark area resident Deb Thomas, representing the Powder River Basin Resource Council, said any further disclosure and access to information on chemicals used in the oil and gas industry is vital to people who live near the activity.

“If casings are bad, then everything that goes down that well can contaminate water zones,” Thomas said.

In addition, all of those chemicals are first transported on public roadways and stored in various areas in higher concentrations before they are injected into gas wells for fracking. Thomas said the general public needs full disclosure of those chemicals in case there are accidents on the surface.

The EPA is studying whether fracking has contaminated water wells in the Pavillion area in central Wyoming.

Pavillion area landowner John Fenton said his family’s land is ringed with past and current oil and gas activity. He said the full disclosure of all the chemicals the industry uses is vital to protecting Wyoming’s other natural resources.

In response to industry comments that reporting more information about fracking would be cumbersome and expensive, Fenton said the industry is sometimes cumbersome and expensive for some landowners.

“I believe myself and my family have been burdened, too,” Fenton said. “We received a 50 percent reduction in the assessed valuation of our home due to the gas activity near our home. So we’ve made our sacrifice.”

Contact Dustin Bleizeffer at dustin.bleizeffer@trib.com or 307-577-6069.

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