Montanans Have a Right to Know About Fracking Chemicals

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Today, NRDC, Montana Environmental Information Center, and multiple Montana property owners, represented by Earthjustice, filed a rulemaking petition asking the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation to enact common-sense changes to the existing fracking chemical disclosure rule. We want to ensure that Montanans have access to basic information about the fracking chemicals used in our communities.

Specifically, we are asking the board to require oil and gas operators to disclose the chemical ingredients of their fracking fluids before fracking occurs so that landowners can conduct effective baseline water quality testing and people in the area can fully understand the risks.  We’re also asking them to close the existing loophole that allows companies to keep the makeup of their fracking chemical cocktails private by calling them a “trade secret,” by ensuring that only legitimate trade secrets are exempt from disclosure.          

Over the past decade, oil and gas production in Montana and across the country has expanded rapidly, with hundreds of thousands of new wells drilled in more than 30 states.  This expansion has been spurred by a technique called fracking, which entails millions of gallons of water and chemicals being injected underground at high pressure to release oil and gas.  Unfortunately, many of the chemicals used in fracking are toxic or carcinogenic. Studies have shown that fracking can contaminate drinking water supplies and harm the health of people living nearby. 

In 2011, the Board responded to widespread public concern about the safety of fracking chemicals by enacting a rule that requires oil and gas operators to disclose what chemicals they use in the fracking process. While the rule was a significant step forward in protecting Montanans from the risks posed by fracking, the rule is flawed in two significant ways that critically undermine the public’s ability to access chemical information:

Pre-Fracking Disclosure:  First, the rule only requires oil and gas operators to disclose their fracking chemicals once the frack job has been completed. As a result, landowners who want to conduct baseline water quality testing prior to the fracking operation don’t know what chemicals to test for, and those who live or work near a proposed frack job can’t fully assess the risks to their health or property. 

Trade Secret Exemption:  Second, if an oil and gas operator claims that the chemicals it uses are trade secrets, it does not have to disclose the names of those chemicals. The rule does not require operators to submit any evidence that the chemical information actually qualifies as a trade secret under Montana law, and it does not require the Board to review trade secret claims. As a result, there’s no incentive for operators to limit their claims to the narrow universe of chemicals that actually qualify as trade secrets, and there is no opportunity for the public to challenge the extension of confidentiality protection for fracking chemicals. 

Montanans deserve to know what’s being pumped into their land and water. Other states—most notably our neighboring state of Wyoming—already provide these protections for their citizens.

It’s time for Montana to step up and do the same for its citizens. 

About the Authors

Amanda Jahshan

Wildlife Energy Conservation Fellow, Lands & Wildlife program

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