Ruling narrows trade secret loophole
By Summit Voice
FRISCO — Fossil fuel companies in Wyoming may soon have to disclose more the chemicals they use for fracking, as the Wyoming Supreme Court decided this week that the state’s oil and gas commission has the burden of justifying the use of a trade secrets exemption that has enabled companies to keep their toxic recipes secret.
“The Wyoming Supreme Court affirmed that the public’s right to know is paramount under state law. If fracking operators don’t want to reveal what chemicals they use, they will have to prove that the chemicals are trade secrets, which means they shouldn’t be able to capriciously keep secrets from the public about dangerous chemicals,” said Katherine O’Brien, an attorney with Earthjustice, which represents the plaintiffs.
The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case back to the District Court in Casper, Wyoming, finding that the definition of trade secrets under the Freedom of Information Act applies in Public Records Act case. By contrast, the oil and gas commission wanted to use a broader definition of trade secrets, which would allow more withholding of chemical information from public disclosure and review.
“We’re pleased the Court recognized that the Oil and Gas Commission has to fully and rationally justify its use of trade secrets exemptions before it can hide fracking chemical information from public review,” said Marilyn Ham, Resource Council Board Member from Laramie County, Wyoming. “We’re looking forward to the next stage of the case and hopefully to getting better information out to the public on what chemicals are used in fracking operations.
“It is important for public health and safety that citizens have timely access to what chemicals are used in fracking operations on and near our land,” said Kristi Mogen, Resource Council Board Member who lives near fracking operations in Converse County, Wyoming. “We applaud Powder River Basin Resource Council for their hard work in bringing this case and for their dedication to empowering the residents of Wyoming.”
“If chemical information is being improperly labeled a trade secret that means it is not available as public information as Wyoming’s hydraulic fracturing regulations intended,” stated Shannon Anderson of the Resource Council.
“We appreciate that the court took seriously the need for the public to know what chemicals are being injected during oil and gas production. We hope that now the state agency will do likewise,” said Bruce Baizel of EARTHWORKS.
The decision is available at: http://www.courts.state.wy.us/Opinions/2014WY37.pdf