By Matthew Brown Associated Press

BILLINGS (AP) – Landowners, environmentalists and health advocates petitioned Montana regulators on July 26 to require companies to more fully divulge which fracking chemicals they use to produce oil and gas.

Dozens of chemicals, some of them hazardous to human health and the environment, are used as part of the process technically known as hydraulic fracturing, in which millions of gallons of fluid are pumped deep underground to release oil and gas trapped in shale or other rock formations.

A 2011 state rule allows companies to conceal from public scrutiny any chemicals they consider to be trade secrets. Officials can request the full ingredients list in the event of a spill or release of the fluids. The rule also allows medical professionals to request the information for diagnosis or emergency treatment because of chemical exposure.

But critics say the trade-secrets exception represents an unlawful loophole, violating the public’s right to know about chemicals that can contaminate groundwater and pollute the air.

The oil and gas industry is set to oppose any rule change.

The July 26 legal petition, from a coalition represented by the environmental law firm Earthjustice, asks the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation to tighten its rules. The coalition includes several property owners, health advocates, the Montana Environmental Information Center and Natural Resources Defense Council.

Earthjustice attorney Katherine O’Brien says companies should have to justify any fracking ingredients withheld, as is done in Wyoming. Also, disclosures should be made before drilling starts instead of after it’s completed, she said.

“It’s important for people who are living and farming and ranching near fracking operations to understand what chemicals they are being exposed to right now. It doesn’t necessarily take a spill to pose a health risk,” O’Brien said. “There’s really no reason Montana deserves less access than their neighbors in Wyoming.”

Oil and gas board Administrator Jim Halvorson said the 2011 rule was crafted to conform with state and federal laws allowing companies to keep confidential proprietary information about what’s in their fracking fluids.

“The board felt that its proposed rule was adequate at the time it was adopted,” he said. “We’ll review the petition for rulemaking and make a decision after that’s been done.”

The matter is likely to come up at the board’s Aug. 11 work meeting, Halvorson added.
State law gives the board 60 days to either reject the request or begin a new rule-making process.

Alan Olson, executive director of the Montana Petroleum Association and a former Republican state senator from Roundup, said the public should not have access to any company trade secrets. Even disclosing such information to regulators would be a concern, he said, because of Montana’s strong open-records laws.

“There’s some concerns about the [oil and gas] board’s ability to keep a trade secret,” Olson said

He added that some fracking chemicals once considered proprietary are now routinely disclosed, because their patents have expired and third-party companies have come up with similar products.

Copyright 2016 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.