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California officials wrestle with handling trade secrets on fracking

July 17, 2013|By Patrick McGreevy

State officials have been flooded with more than 20,000 comments and suggestions regarding proposed regulations of a controversial oil and gas drilling technique known as fracking, officials said Wednesday.

Members of the California Water Commission voiced concerns of their own Wednesday about whether the state should treat the recipes for some fracking liquids as trade secrets, not to be disclosed to the public.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, involves the injection of water, sand and chemicals into the ground to break up rock formations and release the oil and gas trapped inside.

In a briefing Wednesday, Tim Kustic, the state oil and gas supervisor, told the commission that proposed regulations would require companies to notify the state at least 30 days before they begin fracking, with the information publicly posted no more than seven days later. Fracking is currently permitted in California.

Companies would also have to disclose to state regulators the materials used in fracking, but Kustic told the commission that his office was wrestling with rules to apply when companies claim the formulas for their fracking solutions are trade secrets.

Commissioner Kimberly Delfino voiced concern that treating some information as trade secrets might prevent regional water quality agencies from looking for and identifying groundwater contamination from fracking.

Kustic said his office was developing rules for when trade secrets would have to be shared with regulators and a process to make sure oil firms are not hiding information behind rules protecting trade secrets without justification.

Even if some information on the recipe or method of combining chemicals is deemed a trade secret, the regulations would make sure state officials have access to it so they can exercise oversight. “We would hold it [information]. We would evaluate it,” Kustic told the board.

A new draft of regulations will be released this summer with final approval, after additional hearings, likely in mid-2014, well after the state Legislature is expected to act on its own proposed regulations.

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patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com

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