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Leaked Draft Indicates BLM May Give the Fracking Industry Free Reign to Keep Secrets

Matthew McFeeley

Posted February 11, 2013

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On Friday, EnergyWire published a leaked draft of a new proposed Bureau of Land Management rule on hydraulic fracturing.  If enacted, the revisions contained in the draft would represent a major capitulation to the oil and gas industry – and an abdication of the BLM’s responsibility to protect public lands and public health. 

The draft released by EnergyWire appears to be the revision of the rule governing hydraulic fracturing on public lands that the BLM has said it plans to release.  Of course, we do not know if the draft is authentic, or if it represents a finalized proposal.  But if the agency were to adopt this leaked draft rule, it would allow the oil and gas industry to police itself by letting companies decide when they must disclose information on the chemicals they use when fracking. 

Without any oversight, and without providing the information to the BLM, companies would be able to withhold the information as a “trade secret.”  The rule would prevent the BLM from ensuring that information withheld from the public is genuinely proprietary, undermine public confidence in reporting, and prevent challenges by citizens where companies have unreasonably withheld information that is not a genuine “trade secret.” And rather than using a government website, the proposal would allow companies to disclose information on FracFocus.org, an industry-funded website which restricts access to data and is not subject to federal freedom of information requirements. 

Scientists depend on comprehensive and consistent information about what fracking chemicals are being used in order to study the effects that drilling and fracking can have on health and the environment.  By undermining full public disclosure, the draft rule would hamper researchers’ efforts to better understand fracking’s impacts.  Fracking chemicals are transported through communities, stored near homes and schools, and injected at high pressure near drinking water sources.  The public has a right to know what these chemicals are and what their health effects may be. 

If adopted, these disclosure rules would also be much weaker than the rules in many industry-friendly states, like Wyoming and Pennsylvania.  Both states make companies submit trade secret information so that the validity of companies’ claims that information is proprietary can be evaluated.  

Whether on Wall Street or on oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, we’ve seen the disastrous consequences of industry self-regulation.  It doesn’t work.  The only difference in this proposal, which would allow the fracking industry to self-report or simply keep its chemicals secret, is that it would put the lands, the drinking water, and the health of American communities across the country at risk.  That benefits no one – except for the fracking industry.

Unfortunately, the disclosure provisions aren’t the only rules that would be weakened in the leaked draft rule.  For more information on the other ways in which the rule would be weakened by the draft, see my colleague Briana Mordick’s blog here.

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