NC panel protests keeping secret on fracking

Jun. 28, 2013 @ 07:58 PM

A state commission voted Friday to write a letter to the N.C. Legislature in protest of a bill that would remove public disclosure of chemicals pumped into the ground during fracking from the panel's control.

The News & Observer of Raleigh reports (http://bit.ly/13cDB7A ) the N.C. Mining & Energy Commission voted unanimously to write the letter to House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger.

"The motion is to let us do our work, to complete our work," said Chairman James Womack, who plans to send the letter on Saturday.

At issue is a provision in a House bill that leaves the writing of the state's chemical disclosure law to state lawmakers.

Many commissioners were astounded that the legislature would attempt to bypass a commission it created a year ago to create fracking rules. Commissioner Charles Taylor called the legislature's action an "insult."

"It's a gross injustice, not only to this commission and to the staff, but to the citizens of the state," Taylor said during the 45-minute debate.

The Mining & Energy Commission was moving toward writing the nation's strictest disclosure law with maximum disclosure of chemicals. The only detail that would not be disclosed is the precise proportions of those chemicals in the fracking fluid.

The fluid, a mixture of water, chemicals and sand, is used to prevent corrosion and increase lubrication when underground shale rocks are hydraulically fractured to release natural gas trapped inside.

A Senate committee this week passed a 43-page bill that included a provision that would allow energy companies to withhold "trade secrets" from their state filings. The information would have to be disclosed in the event of an accident that resulted to a public health emergency.

Commissioner George Howard disagreed with his colleagues, saying they had it coming by proposing that trade secrets be held by the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Agency officials said state government would be subject to multiple lawsuits to pry the trade secrets loose.

"We picked a fight we shouldn't have picked, and that is, who holds the trade secret," Howard said. "They communicated they didn't want to hold the trade secret and we stiffed them."

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Information from: The News & Observer, http://www.newsobserver.com

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.