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Lower bench will hear fracking case again, high court decides
Mar 13, 2014 - By Mead Gruver, The Associated Press
A Wyoming Supreme Court ruling Wednesday will give environmentalists another chance to argue in favor of public disclosure of the ingredients in the chemical products used in hydraulic fracturing in the state.
The high court sent their case back to a lower court on a technicality, but noted that Wyoming didn't offer enough evidence that the state oil and gas supervisor was correct to withhold the ingredient lists in response to requests for them. The lower court will need to review each piece of information sought on a case-by-case basis, the justices ruled, rather than generally uphold the supervisor's judgment.
"Neither this court nor the district court has a sufficient basis to determine whether he acted properly," the justices wrote.
Wyoming was the first state to require disclosure of fracking fluid ingredients to state regulators. Oil and gas drilling operations in Fremont County are central to the controversy in Wyoming.
Wednesday's ruling granting a rehearing under the state public records law doesn't necessarily open the way to victory for the Powder River Basin Resource Council, Wyoming Outdoor Council, Earthworks, and Center for Effective Government, however. The lower court judge who will rehear the case ruled previously that the lists are protected trade secrets under the justices' preferred definition of a trade secret.
"We will continue the fight in the trial court to ensure that the identity of fracking chemicals -- which threaten the water supplies that communities depend upon -- cannot be kept secret from the public," said an attorney for the groups, Katherine O'Brien, in a statement.
Wyoming's rules on disclosing fracking fluid ingredients are well-crafted and have been a model for other states, Gov. Matt Mead said in a statement.
"A value of having state rules is that we can be nimble to make changes to the rules or to their implementation if such action is deemed necessary," he said.
Oil and gas developers employ hydraulic fracturing to boost production. The technique pumps water, fine sand and chemicals into wells to fracture open oil- and gas-bearing rock deposits.
The process has been controversial amid concern that fracking gone wrong could taint groundwater with hydrocarbons or fracking fluids containing toxic substances. The industry uses a variety of specially formulated fluids to facilitate fracking.
In 2010, Wyoming became the first state to require companies to disclose to state regulators the ingredients in their fracking fluids.