Some environmental groups have been quick to condemn California's proposed regulations on hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking. They say the rules don't require enough disclosure from the oil and gas industry. But just over a year ago, these groups endorsed the same disclosure requirements. In fact, some major California groups helped write them.
Hydraulic fracturing is a technology that has been safely used for more than six decades in the United States to increase the productivity of oil and gas wells. It uses water, sand and a tiny percentage of chemical additives to create small cracks in deep underground rock formations, which allow more oil and gas to flow into the well. Those chemicals, which prevent corrosion and perform other important safety functions, make up less than 0.05 percent of a typical fracturing solution.
California's proposed regulation would require the disclosure of these chemicals while protecting intellectual property, or trade secrets. While many additives are everyday chemicals found in household products, others are special additives that oil-field service companies have invested many years and many millions of dollars developing.
This occurs across the economy. Think of the white glue that was probably accidentally ingested by thousands of elementary school children. It contains man-made chemicals that the company will not disclose to parents but will disclose to doctors if needed.
Under California's proposed regulations, everything besides trade secrets would be posted on a public database. State officials and medical professionals would have access to all information, including the formulas for products with trade-secret protections.
These intellectual property safeguards were immediately attacked when state officials proposed them Dec. 18.
Earthworks, a Washington, D.C.-based group with offices in Berkeley, mocked the proposal as a "drill baby drill" plan and said "it's hard to find much to praise." Earthjustice, a San Francisco nonprofit that acts as a law firm for the Sierra Club and other major environmental groups, demanded the elimination of all trade-secret protections. "There should be some way to disclose what those (chemicals) are," an Earthjustice attorney told the Bakersfield Californian.
But these groups failed to disclose that they helped write almost identical regulations for the state of Colorado in December 2011.
Like California's proposed rules, Colorado's existing regulations require the composition of hydraulic fracturing fluids to be disclosed, with protections for trade secrets and provisions to ensure regulators and health professionals have full access to all the information they need.
Earthjustice led Earthworks and four other environmental groups in negotiations with industry officials and state regulators in Colorado, and according to a news release, Earthjustice was "instrumental" in a "positive outcome" that requires "full disclosure of the substances used in the fracking process." An Earthjustice attorney even told The Associated Press that the Colorado rule provides "a full picture of what's in that fracking fluid."
Meanwhile, Earthworks called the Colorado rule a "victory" that "elevates the community right-to-know principle (disclosure) above the narrow economic principle of protecting corporate property."
As for other green groups, the Environmental Defense Fund called the negotiations in Colorado "an example of how government and industry and the environmental community can work together," and Colorado Conservation Voters declared: "The clear winners of the rule-making today are the citizens of Colorado."
California faces serious challenges -- and major opportunities -- on the energy, environmental and economic fronts. The people of our state deserve a serious debate, grounded in facts, that leads to workable solutions. Unfortunately for the anti-oil and gas activists, directly contradicting a recently held position for short term political gain doesn't count as serious.
Dave Quast is California field director of Energy in Depth, a research group founded by the Independent Petroleum Association of America. He wrote this for this newspaper.