Hickenlooper calls on oil and gas industry to disclose fracking chemicals

Denver Mayor and Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Hickenlooper Tuesday called on oil and gas companies to disclose the chemical formulas being used in the drilling process of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”

Speaking at the Governor’s Energy Policy forum in Denver Tuesday, hosted by 9News and the Denver Petroleum Club, the former geologist turned restaurant mogul took a definitive stance on the controversial process, which is used to increase production in the majority of natural gas wells drilled in Colorado.

“I am a believer that the oil and gas industry should reveal what chemicals are in that frack solution,” he said, adding that because there appears to be no real issue with the solution, revealing fracking chemicals would help the public accept the process more readily. “We can build trust.”

Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes did not attend the event, and his GOP primary opponent, former congressman Scott McInnis, attended and spoke but did not discuss his position on fracking. His spokesman did not return calls requesting comment Wednesday.

Industry officials argue the chemical formulas are proprietary and that revealing them could destroy a company’s competitive edge. Plus they say fracking has never been proven to contaminate groundwater despite decades of ongoing use.

However, industry critics claim fracking has contaminated groundwater and presents a major health risk to residents of heavily drilled areas. The process, which involves injecting mostly water and sand, as well as undisclosed chemicals, deep into wells to fracture tight geologic formations and free up more gas, is exempted from federal regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Colorado and the FRAC Act

U.S. Reps. Diana DeGette, D-Denver, and Jared Polis, D-Boulder, last summer introduced the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals (FRAC) Act, which would remove that exemption. Both cited a public right to know when it comes to injecting chemicals deep into the ground and dealing with the “produced water” used in fracking.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), which regulates oil and gas drilling in the state, does not support the FRAC Act, claiming it may add an unnecessary layer of environmental regulation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which is conducting a study on the process.

COGCC regulations adopted more than a year ago call for an inventory of chemicals to be kept onsite of drilling operations and made available to emergency responders or government officials within 24 hours in the event of a spill, but some regulators and environmentalists say that’s not good enough.

“I have done a cursory look but I can’t find a case where a fracking caused the contamination of shallow ground water sources,” Hickenlooper said.

Pennsylvania environmental regulators last year shut down fracking operations by a Texas company because of concerns about possible chemical contamination of groundwater stemming from the process.

Critics say the lack of definitive evidence stems from the nondisclosure of exactly what chemicals are being used. Increasingly, the industry itself – including such heavy hitters as Exxon – is beginning to reconsider whether the frack battle is one worth fighting.

Shareholder calls for disclosure

As You Sow, a nonprofit environmental shareholder advocacy group, has been pushing for reform from within, citing the suspension of shareholder dividends at BP in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

The group filed shareholder resolutions at 12 oil and gas companies, calling for improved disclosure of the risks associated with fracking. At the companies where the resolutions went to a vote, the proposals received a high level of support for first-time environmental resolutions, garnering between 7 to 14 times the percent of votes required by the Securities and Exchange Commission to re-file the proposals next year.

The highest vote total was at Williams Companies Inc., the largest producer of natural gas on Colorado’s Western Sloper, where 42 percent of the shares voted supported the proposal.

“This impressive result is one of the highest on record for a first-year environmental proposal and sends a very clear message to all companies dependent on hydraulic fracturing that investors are concerned about the risks associated with the process and demand increased disclosure,” As You Sow’s Michael Passoff said in a release.

[Flickr photo via HickforCo]

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