A coalition of Montana property owners, public health advocates, and conservation groups today filed a legal challenge to the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation (BOGC), which refused last September to grant the public greater access to information about the chemicals used in fracking.
Many chemicals used in fracking are toxic or carcinogenic to humans, who may be exposed to the chemicals through surface spills of fracking fluids, groundwater contamination, and chemical releases into the air. As we have documented on this site, numerous studies have documented adverse health effects in people who live or use water wells near fracking operations.
In 2011 the BOGC put rules in place regarding chemical disclosure. These rules have two major shortcomings:
- They allow oil and gas operators to withhold the identities of specific chemicals they use for fracking from the Board and the public until after fracking occurs.
- Even after fracking occurs, operators may continue to withhold the identity of any fracking chemical information they claim is a trade secret. They can do this, according to the rules, without providing any evidence demonstrating that withheld chemical information actually qualifies as a trade secret under state law and with no oversight by the BOGC.
“Montanans have the right to know what chemicals oil and gas operators plan to pump into the ground on their farms and ranches and near their homes so they can take steps to protect their property and health,” said Earthjustice attorney Katherine O’Brien, who is representing the coalition in the lawsuit. “Operators just down the road in Wyoming already are required to disclose this information, so we know that broader disclosure is workable for industry.”
The coalition petitioned the Board in July 2016 to close these gaps in the existing disclosure rules and ensure that Montanans who live and farm near fracking operations have access to chemical information they need to safeguard their property rights, health, and environment. The petition specifically requested that the rules be changed to require operators to disclose specific chemical information before fracking occurs and require operators to justify their trade secret claims. But on September 23, 2016, the Board denied the petition in a one-page decision.
“My family home is less than a mile away from numerous fracked oil wells on the edge of the Bakken oil field,” said plaintiff Dr. Mary Anne Mercer, a public health expert who has witnessed fracking operations on her family ranch. “I worry about what the potentially toxic solutions used for fracking are doing to the soil and water of the land that I’ll always call home.”
Matt Skoglund, director of National Resources Defense Council’s Northern Rockies office in Bozeman said, “As it stands today, the Board of Oil and Gas is approving fracking chemicals for use in Montana without even knowing what the chemicals are. That is completely unacceptable, and it needs to change.”
The BOGC has 40 days to file a response. We’ll keep you updated on developments.