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Panel Recommends Fracking Companies Maintain Some Chemical Secrets

Fracking the Marcellus Shale: a rig and gas well operation.
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The panel that is writing the rules that may become North Carolina’s fracking laws will not require drilling companies to disclose which chemicals they use to extract gas.

Members of the Energy and Mining Commission voted unanimously on Tuesday to approve the rule, which stumped them for more than a year and drew  input from environmental and business groups.

Environmentalists argued that full disclosure of chemical use was critical to preventing drilling companies from pumping harmful substances into the ground.  They believe the information should be immediately accessible in the event of a public health emergency. Businesses considering shale gas exploration - in North Carolina and other states - have said some chemicals they use are trade secrets.  They believe it would be a disadvantage to make the makeup of their chemicals available to competitors.

The commissioners’  vote centered on a state law that allows companies to keep trade secrets private.

“These companies that do this work compete with each other, and they sell their product to various well operators around the country,” said commission chairman James Womack. “They wouldn’t be able to sell their products if they didn’t have a competitive edge.”

Drillers would be required to prove their chemicals are trade secrets in closed-door meetings with the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources, Womack said. The department will not keep record of the chemicals after the meetings.

Federal laws require companies to make chemical details available in public health emergencies. Womack said he and Commissioner Vikram Rao are working on a digital lock-box option to store that information after companies have drilled and cleared up the site.

The commission will open its rule-writing process to public input in the fall, Womack said. It is scheduled to present proposals to state lawmakers by October.  Shale gas exploration is under a moratorium in North Carolina. Lawmakers are expected to pass legislation allowing it next year.

Jorge Valencia has been with North Carolina Public Radio since 2012. A native of Bogotá, Colombia, Jorge studied journalism at the University of Maryland and reported for four years for the Roanoke Times in Virginia before joining the station. His reporting has also been published in the Wall Street Journal, the Miami Herald, and the Baltimore Sun.
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