Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission revises hydro fracking regs

USGS assessment of shale in Alaska. Fracking is the common method of accessing oil and natural gas in shale. (Figure from USGS)

USGS assessment of shale in Alaska. Fracking is the common method of accessing oil and natural gas in shale. (Figure from USGS)

The Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has revised their proposed hydraulic fracking regulations again.

Some of the new rules aimed to give the public more information about the chemicals used in the controversial oil and gas extraction method.

However in the latest version, companies are allowed to withhold some information from the public in order to protect their trade secrets.

If the regulations are approved, companies could mark some formulas confidential and only the AOGCC would see them. If the public wanted the information they would have to seek a court order.

Barrett Ristroph with the Wilderness Society says this weakens the provisions that protect the public.

“Also, I think this is an issue of such great importance to the public, that the public should know ahead of time what’s going on in and around their property and the areas where they might hunt. It shouldn’t have to take a court order, which can take months or even years, to get that information.”

Ristroph says waiting for a court order could be especially dangerous if there is a medical emergency potentially linked to ground water contamination.

During a hearing about the proposed regulations in October, oil industry representatives argued that the specific chemical mixtures for fracking fluids needed to be protected so that other companies did not steal them. They argued that without protections, they would not be willing to use their best recipes in Alaska.

Other changes in the regulations say that if landowners don’t give the operators permission to gather baseline data on their water wells then the companies will not have to test the wells later for contamination. Though baseline data gathering will be required, follow up testing will only be necessary if the commission requires it or a landowner complains.

The regulations will be discussed at a public hearing on January 15.