“Changed circumstances”: Montana Board of Oil and Gas reconsiders rulemaking on fracking chemical disclosure

Citing “changed circumstances,” the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation (BOGC) has decided to reconsider rulemaking on fracking chemical disclosure at its next meeting on February 1.

While the Board didn’t specify what had changed, one new circumstance is the legal action filed against the BOGC on January 17 by a coalition of Montana property owners, public health advocates, and conservation groups. The suit seeks more transparent disclosure of information to the public on chemicals used in the fracking process.

The coalition had originally petitioned the Board in July 2016 to close gaps in the existing disclosure rules and ensure that Montanans who live, ranch, 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.

The current Montana rules, adopted in 2011, do not require companies to reveal the chemicals to be used in fracking until after drilling occurs, and allow companies to withhold the names of chemicals they regard as “trade secrets.” There is no review or oversight of trade secret claims under these rules.

The Board of Oil and Gas Conservation considering but not acting. Photo: Casey Page, Billings Gazette

The Board of Oil and Gas Conservation considering but not acting. Photo: Casey Page, Billings Gazette

The decision to review rulemaking on February 1 is not the same as agreeing to begin the rulemaking process, however. The agenda item is stated only as “Consideration of initiating rulemaking on hydraulic fracturing disclosure.”

Chemical disclosure is just one example of an area in which Montana fracking rules lag behind other oil and gas producing states. Wyoming, for example, requires companies to submit to the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission a full list of chemicals they plan to use in fracking operations on a well-by-well basis. Companies also have to report the concentration of each chemical used once the job is done. In addition, any trade secret claim in Wyoming is reviewed to determine whether it is legitimate. Not surprisingly, the Commission instituted the last rule in response to a lawsuit by environmental groups.

In Montana the BOGC is not even informed of the identities of chemicals excluded as trade secrets.

Montana remains one of the only oil and gas states that requires no minimum distance, or setback, between wellheads and occupied dwellings. In response to a petition for rulemaking last year, the BOGC refused to establish a minimum setback, opting only to require notification in advance of drilling near an occupied dwelling.

For those desiring to attend, the BOGC hearing will be held on Wednesday, February 1 at the BOGC hearing room at 2535 West St. Johns Avenue in Billings.

Related:

On Preserve the Beartooth Front:
Montana coalition sues BOGC over fracking chemical disclosure
Billings Gazette editorial on fracking chemical disclosure
Time for the Montana Board of Oil and Gas to step forward on setbacks
What’s wrong with the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation

Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation documents:
Docket for February 1-2 meetings
Information on BOGC’s previous consideration of rulemaking on fracking chemical disclosure

Download the lawsuit filed earlier this month

About davidjkatz

The Moses family has lived on the Stillwater River since 1974, when George and Lucile Moses retired and moved to the Beehive from the Twin Cities. They’re gone now, but their four daughters (pictured at left, on the Beehive) and their families continue to spend time there, and have grown to love the area. This blog started as an email chain to keep the family informed about the threat of increased fracking activity in the area, but the desire to inform and get involved led to the creation of this blog.
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