EARTHWORKS

Wyoming communities worry that state drilling oversight is another MMS/gulf spill in the making

June 28, 2010

State avoidance of federal oversight reveals same coziness that allowed the gulf spill disaster

Clark Resource Council * EARTHWORKS * Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens
Powder River Basin Resource Council

Wyoming, 6/28 With the Gulf oil spill disaster continuing to play out, Wyoming landowners and community groups are equating the behavior of BP and federal regulators that led to the disaster to the behavior of industry and regulators in Wyoming. Landowners insist that whether it is drinking water contamination in Pavillion, inadequate response to blowouts in Clark, or oil spills in Deaver, state officials' relationship to industry devalues landowners' property and puts human health at risk.

"Any accurate history of Wyoming's regulation of the drilling industry will show that the State denies, blocks and delays holding the industry accountable," says Deb Thomas a Clark landowner and member of the Clark Resource Council. After four years, remediation plans for the Crosby gas well blowout are being considered. Meanwhile, contamination plumes continue to move through the Line Creek drainage toward drinking water and private property. Thomas and her neighbors worry that industry will construct, and Wyoming DEQ will adopt, a "remedy agreement" that fails to adequately identify and monitor the contamination plumes.

Earlier this month the Governor and the Wyoming Oil & Gas Conservation Commission (WOGCC) passed new statewide oil and gas drilling rules, including a controversial provision regarding the disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. "We've kind of got it figured out here on land," bragged Governor Dave Freudenthal in a June 16th audio release. "We used our Oil and Gas Commission to pass our fracking rules, we have blowout preventer requirements & I won't mess with their knitting if they stay out of ours."

"State officials have made it clear that these new rules are an attempt to avoid federal regulation of hydraulic fracturing," says John Fenton, President of Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens. The new rules require disclosure of fracturing chemicals to the state agency only. Landowners insist they don't have adequate access to this information, as the state's Open Record's Act may even protect industry's attempt to claim this information as proprietary.

Fenton argues that if the WOGCC's new disclosure rule were actually to benefit the public, disclosure would be to the public, not only the WOGCC. The rule should also require full disclosure of all chemicals in all fluids used in oil and gas development. "By limiting the disclosure provision to hydraulic fracturing and reporting to the state, our state officials did the bidding of industry. Same as it ever was," says Fenton, whose water is contaminated and may have been for decades.

However, disclosure of hydraulic fracturing chemicals to the public may be inevitable. Major drilling corporations have already agreed to public disclosure requirements. And Governor Freudenthal conceded as much on June 16th, when he acknowledged that the primary intent of the regulations was to forestall federal oversight of drilling. He then went on to claim that the new rules adequately identify and remediate contamination, and make the Federal "FRAC Act" unnecessary in Wyoming.

The FRAC Act, currently being considered in both houses of Congress, would require public disclosure of hydraulic fracturing fluids. Additionally, it would close a 2005 loophole inserted into the Safe Drinking Water Act that exempted hydraulic fracturing. Both industry and the state have been vocally opposed to the FRAC Act

In the wake of the Gulf oil spill, national environmental groups argue that Wyoming's maneuvers to avoid federal regulation should not be viewed as a simple jurisdictional turf war. "It reflects the unhealthy coziness between regulators and the regulated," said Jennifer Goldman, organizer for EARTHWORKS' Oil & Gas Accountability Project. "We need federal, state and local reforms, including the FRAC Act, so that regulators can begin to resume their responsibility to protect the public interest."

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