PINEHURST – The state Mining and Energy Commission will look at how the state’s open record laws apply to chemical mixtures that oil and gas companies consider trade secrets, the head of the commission said Friday.
Lee County Commissioner Jim Womack serves as chairman of the commission, which is writing rules for oil and natural gas exploration in North Carolina. Its work has focused on fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, a controversial method of horizontal drilling that uses chemicals, sand and water to fracture rock formations and release natural gas.
Scientists think that prehistoric rock formations beneath Lee and nearby counties may contain large deposits of natural gas.
Fracking opponents are concerned about potential harm to people and the environment. Supporters think it can be done safely and will bring economic help to the region.
Environmental concerns were discussed Friday at the commission’s Local Government Regulation Study Group. The group agreed to look at existing state environmental laws before deciding how they should be revised for gas exploration.
The commission now has six committees and three study groups looking at various issues related to oil and natural gas exploration. The commission is expected to finish its work by October 2014.
Friday, members of the study group discussed air quality, water quality and erosion control. A member of the audience asked how the state can know what to test for if companies claimed that chemicals they used in fracking were considered trade secrets.
Womack said the “tens of gallons” of chemicals were mixed with millions of gallons of water during a 24- to 36-hour fracking process. The chemicals used will be released on state documents, but it is not yet known if they will identified at the molecular level, he said.
“99.95 percent of what goes into the ground will be known,” he said. “The other .05 percent will be generally known, but not at the molecular level.”
Womack said the topic of sensitive information related to fracking has come up at committee and study group meetings.
North Carolina requires a wide amount of disclosure related to trade secrets, Womack said.
“We’re trying to preserve and sustain that transparency, while at the same time preserving the trade secrets of the industry,” he said.
Womack said the commission is forming a new study group to look at trade secrets, intellectual property and confidential information. He expects members of the study group to be named in four to six weeks.
Womack said he wants to be sure that state or local governments have enough inspectors and monitors for fracking operations.
He said he didn’t think existing emergency service workers were ready for potential disasters at drilling sites.
One of the two capped gas wells in Lee County is near U.S. 421, Womack said. If a vehicle ran off the road and hit the well now, the highway would probably have to be closed for 24 to 36hours until a team could come from West Virginia to repair it.
“I can’t imagine the state of North Carolina not wanting to have that expertise in the state,” he said.
Womack said he does not think the state is currently inspecting the two wells.
“If we’re already not doing it now, I’m not comfortable we’ll be staffed to do it in the future,” he said.