Last week the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation turned down a request from several conservation organizations and other residents to require increased disclosure of fracking chemicals.
This is typical for the BOGC. Earlier this year they declined to establish minimum setbacks of wellheads from occupied buildings, leaving Montana as one of the few oil and gas producing states with no required buffer zones.
Montana remains one of the most poorly regulated oil and gas producing states, largely because the BOGC is designed to conserve oil and gas interests, not the rights of the state’s residents. The fight to reform the BOGC is central to protecting the state’s residents from unsafe drilling in this poorly regulated industry.
Today the Billings Gazette responded to the latest BOGC failure with a scathing editorial, reprinted below.
Oil and Gas board needs to find a better fracking solution
No fracking way.
That’s what the Montana Board of Oil and Gas said when it comes to disclosing what is in the fracking fluid that is pumped down oil wells at high pressure to recover oil. There’s simply no way to disclose what’s in the fluid without compromising trade secrets.
But what’s being compromised by not releasing the information is doubly concerning.
First, think of how many industries have to disclose what they’re using to the public. Read the label on any agricultural product and companies will tell you a list of chemicals, compounds or ingredients. A label on any item on the grocery store has the ingredients. Look at how the air, water and soil are monitored for pollutants. So it seems curious that what is being forced into the ground and could potentially mix with water would get a free pass from a government board. Unless, of course, that government board is made up of members with ties or business interests in oil and gas.
Really, what can you expect a group of oil and gas people to say? Montana citizens should not expect an unbiased opinion from this group.
That being said, transparency is key because there is potential to do harm to one of our greatest resources, water. As the old Western saying goes, “Whiskey is for drinking, water’s for fighting.”
We cannot leave to chance our environment, if our state history has taught us anything. We must have a better standard of review, and we must be assured that what is put into a well for fracking is going to be safe in a place where water is so scarce, especially when the financial fortunes of those who stand to gain so much by our oil don’t have to live here with the repercussions of any harm that may be done.
However, we also agree that there are limited times when detailed information may indeed be proprietary. And we also respect that businesses must be able to protect the investment. But that cannot come at the expense of our environment. Just because we’ve been fracking in Montana since 1951 doesn’t mean that all fracking done here — now or then — has been positive or done correctly.
That’s why we urge the oil and gas board to adopt some middle ground. Is there an independent review body which can assess the claims of proprietary information or trade secrets? After all, it would seem like the easiest thing in the world for a petroleum company to simply invoke the proprietary information excuse in order to avoid any scrutiny.
We’d argue that there must be some independent review. We also think Wyoming may provide a reasonable alternative. In that state, where water contamination in Pavillion led to many questions about fracking and geology, that board has adopted a more stringent disclosure process. There are lists of fracking fluid ingredients that are not considered proprietary and must be disclosed. Any other fluid that is not on that list must be reviewed by experts to determine whether it falls under the proprietary disclosure.
When companies or individuals want to do something outside the public view, there’s often a reason.
Trust us is not a good enough answer.
The risk of environmental damage is so great that we shouldn’t have to trust that something is safe. We should get the peace of mind to know that something is safe — not because some expert from a company says so, but because we can check the fact for ourselves.