Fracking: Wyoming jumps ahead of Colorado in regulation of hydraulic fracturing fluids

While Colorado officials fret over whether drilling regulations are too tough, this month Wyoming will become the first state to require energy companies to disclose what's in the mysterious, highly toxic fluids they pump into the ground to extract oil and gas. Yes, that's right. Wyoming, bastion of Dick Cheney and a boom-bust energy economy, is forcing the industry to reveal the chemicals in hydraulic fracturing fluids if it wants to drill there.

"Fracking," as it's known, is a widely used process to extract oil and gas from tight shale or sandstone formations by pumping massive amounts of water mixed with chemicals to create pathways through the rock. The industry maintains it's a safe process and that there's no real evidence the fluids have ever contaminated drinking supplies.

But in recent years, increasing attention has been focused on the proprietary, hush-hush blend of chemicals the frackers use in their recipes -- including benzene, toluene and other toxins. Exposes in national magazines (including this Vanity Fair article) and the activist documentary Gasland have stirred public outrage and put pressure on regulators to find out just what the companies are pumping into the ground.

Wyoming's new rule, which goes into effect on September 15, doesn't make companies to publicly reveal the exact blend of fracking fluids, but it does require a complete list of the chemicals involved. That's a fracking leap forward in Cheney country. Under the Bush-Cheney administration, fracking was exempted from the requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

According to this post on New West, major players in the industry -- including Halliburton, the hydraulic fracturing giant which once claimed Cheney as its CEO -- attempted to persuade Governor Dave Freudenthal to ease up on the new rule.

"Halliburton sent a big-time lawyer to talk to us, but it didn't go well for him," Freudenthal told New West.

Will Colorado follow the Cowboy State's lead? Better yet, will the feds require uniform disclosure by companies of hydraulic fracturing processes across the country? Don't look for a major overhaul too soon -- but with Wyoming drawing a line in the shale against groundwater contamination, anything's possible.

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast