Comment deadline on fracking rule extended after COGCC website taken down

Critics of a draft Colorado rule to compel oil and gas companies to divulge chemicals used in the controversial hydraulic fracturing process will have some extra time to file comments online after the state’s website was taken down for “security-related emergency maintenance.”

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) took its site down Tuesday night and restored it Wednesday afternoon, requiring an extension of the posting deadline ahead of a much-anticipated hearing on the new rule in Denver on Dec. 5.

“The [COGCC] website was temporarily taken offline to conduct security-related emergency maintenance. Services are now fully restored,” Department of Natural Resources spokesman Todd Hartman said in an email Wednesday afternoon. “Because of the outage, the deadline for prehearing statements and written public comments on the hydraulic fracturing disclosure rulemaking has been extended from today to 2 p.m. Friday, Nov. 25.”

To file comments, go to the COGCC website homepage, click on “Hydraulic Fracturing Disclosure Rulemaking” and follow the link to “Comments.”

Since it was first unveiled earlier this month, the draft rule has been criticized by conservation groups and some politicians who feel it includes a “trade-secret” loophole that will allow companies to essentially skirt the intent of the rule.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, injects water, sand and chemicals under high pressure into wells to fracture rock and free up more oil or gas. While some companies voluntarily post some chemicals on the FracFocus website, others claim chemical formulas must be kept secret for proprietary reasons. Critics of fracking claim the process has been proven to contaminate groundwater supplies.

“Full disclosure is the only real course. The proposed rule allows oil and gas companies to hide whatever chemicals they prefer not to disclose,” Pitkin County Commissioner Rachel Richards said in a press release. “Citizens have the right to know all chemicals that are used in the fracking process.”

COGCC director David Neslin says the draft version of the rule should suffice.

“Trade secret formulas seem to be infrequent,” Neslin told the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. “And the industry understands that overuse would be self-defeating. If it appears the trade secret protections are being abused, we can amend the rule.”

Hartman on Wednesday said, “We’ll be addressing this further next week.”

Gov. John Hickenlooper, a former oil and gas industry geologist, called for the rulemaking process despite his skepticism that fracking actually contaminates groundwater. Neslin in the past has told the Colorado Independent that chemical disclosure won’t necessarily stop contamination from pit leaks, pipeline spills and faulty cement jobs.

Still, disclosure of chemicals used in fracking is viewed by many, including Hickenlooper, as a matter of public perception and trust.

“Gov. Hickenlooper sent a clear message, and we agree with it. Full disclosure of all fracking chemicals creates greater transparency in industry operations and boosts trust with the public,” said Petrika Peters, Western Slope energy organizer for the Colorado Environmental Coalition. “Allowing for a major loophole for unlimited trade secret claims dramatically weakens the entire rule-making process.”

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