California fracking bill would protect industry ‘trade secrets’
A California lawmaker working to pass the Golden State's first hydraulic fracturing rules has watered down his landmark legislation, hoping to overcome industry opposition to a measure that would force energy companies to disclose the mysterious mix of chemicals they inject into the ground to tap oil deposits.
The legislation stalled last year after objections by industry that full disclosure of "fracking" chemicals would reveal proprietary "recipes." After months of meetings with oil companies and environmentalists, Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) is now touting a compromise measure that goes to lengths to protect those trade secrets while increasing public disclosure.
His office said the changes mirror Colorado regulations that were widely praised by environmentalists when they were adopted last year. Regulators have yet to develop rules or reporting requirements for fracking in California, the fourth largest oil-producing state in the nation.
Under the latest version of AB 591, oil companies would be required to post the names and concentrations of fracking chemicals on a national online registry within 60 days of stopping hydraulic fracturing. They would also be required to list the locations of the wells where the procedure was used and the dates it was performed.
Energy firms can, however, withhold certain chemicals from public disclosure by filing a trade secret claim with state regulators. Under the bill, the state's chief oil and gas supervisor can compel disclosure in the event of an emergency to assist the response of state agencies and healthcare workers -- but those employees are bound by confidentiality agreements.
Response workers, the bill says, "shall maintain the confidentiality of the trade secret and destroy all copies of the trade secret received once the need for the trade secret has ended."
The previous version of the measure simply required oil companies to submit to state regulators "a complete list of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing."
"We're certainly trying to add more disclosure than we currently have now and do it in a way that protects the trade secrets but also makes information available to the state," said Jeff Barbosa, a spokesman for Wieckowski.
The bill now heads to several environmental policy committees.
--Michael J. Mishak in Sacramento
Photo: Range Resources workers stand near the rig that drills into the shale at a well site in Washington, Pa. The company is one of many drilling and "fracking" in the area to release natural gas. Credit: Keith Srakocic/Associated Press