Casper judge rules fracking ingredients are trade secrets

2013-03-25T11:44:00Z 2013-03-25T23:12:05Z Casper judge rules fracking ingredients are trade secretsBy ADAM VOGE Casper Star-Tribune The Billings Gazette
March 25, 2013 11:44 am  • 

A Casper district judge has ruled that individual ingredients used in hydraulic fracturing can be considered trade secrets and be shielded by Wyoming law.

Judge Catherine Wilking agreed with state regulators and oil-and-gas industry representatives in a decision released Monday, saying that intense industry competition and sophisticated reverse-engineering processes could transform a simple list of hydraulic fracturing ingredients into a formula to emulate another company's success.

Wilking's ruling shot down several landowner and environmental groups' request for information about ingredients used to fracture oil and natural gas wells across the state. The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission refused to release several of those records, citing a state law which protects information considered trade secrets.

A representative of one group which sued for the records, the Wyoming-based Powder River Basin Resource Council, said her group is considering an appeal but hasn't reached a decision.

"It will take us a while to digest it and figure out the next step," Shannon Anderson, an organizer for the group, said. "We continue to believe landowners have the right to this kind of information about chemicals being injected into their land."

Among the supporters of the judge's decision was Gov. Matt Mead.

"This decision recognizes the importance of a state-based approach to regulating hydraulic fracturing -- one that balances this important method for producing energy with environmental protection,” he said in a prepared statement Monday.

The case centers on laws which Wyoming implemented in 2010. The state that year became the first in the nation to require disclosure of components of the fluid used in hydraulic fracturing, a process wherein water, chemicals and sand are pumped into a well in order to break rock and free trapped resources.

Groups such as the resource council used the new law to request information about many hydraulic-fracturing projects, but the commission held several back, citing state law which prevents the release of "trade secrets." The decision drew a suit which was heard in Casper in January.

The council and other groups argued that the commission's actions were "arbitary and capricious" and should require more justification than was presented. Attorneys for the commission and Halliburton, a oil field service company that intervened in the case, said the commission's actions were justified because they protected companies from disclosing information which would hurt their competitive advantage.

The judge sided with regulators and Halliburton, and said the burden is on lawmakers and other state officials to open such information through state law.

"Both positions have substantial merit, however the Court feels that these competing concerns are best addressed through legislative action...," Wilking wrote.

She also ruled that interim oil and gas supervisor Bob King's actions in withholding the information were not "arbitrary and capricious" as the groups insisted.

King said he was glad to see his interpretation of the law upheld.

"I think it did what we felt was the right thing to do from the state’s perspective," he said. "We felt we were correct with how we interpreted the issue and thought we were in compliance with the Freedom of Information Act, so overall I was very pleased."

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