Friday, May 23, 2014

N.C. lawmakers criminalize disclosure of fracking chemicals

Posted By on Fri, May 23, 2014 at 10:37 AM

When state Mining and Energy Commission Chairman Jim Womack commented on an anticipated fracking bill earlier this month, he said that a key component of the bill was to "get chemical disclosure the way we want to do it." The way they want to do it, as it turns out, is in secret, with felony charges at the ready for anyone tempted to tell.

The Energy Modernization Act, which breezed through the N.C. Senate just a week into the short session, not only will lift the current moratorium on natural gas drilling as of July 2015 but will make it a Class I felony to reveal details about the chemical cocktail fracking companies will use to extract gas from drill holes. The state geologist and first responders would be privy to the details - confidentially, of course - but to the general public the bill would consider the chemicals a "trade secret." That "secret" formula - known as the Master Well Formula currently used by fracking companies like Encana Corp. in Wyoming, where drillers are actually required to disclose their chemicals, includes multiple carcinogens and can be viewed here.

North Carolina might have required chemical disclosure as well - the Mining and Energy Commission even approved a bill in committee in March 2013 that would have obligated miners to list their chemical ingredients to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources - but Womack removed that bill from the agenda and sent it back for rewrites. And he did so immediately after speaking with a senior executive at Halliburton, a major fracking services company.

"They [at Halliburton] indicated to me in a phone conversation that there may be other options than what was written in the [chemical disclosure] rule," Womack told AP reporter Michael Biesecker when asked about deciding to delay the vote.

Fracking companies' involvement with the mining commission doesn't stop there; commissioner Vikram Rao served a 30 year tenure at Halliburton and has invested more than $10,000 in BioLargo, a fracking wastewater disposal company. Documents obtained this month by Greenpeace show that vice chairman George Howard was appointed by Senate President Pro-Tem Philip E. Berger, who received over $46,000 in campaign contributions from fracking interests between 2009 and 2011.

The Energy Modernization Act will now move on to the state House for ratification. As Womack said before the short session, "thoughtful written and oral input" could still shape the trajectory of fracking rules - apparently as long as that input comes from Halliburton.

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