Keeping Information on Fracking Chemicals Confidential

States differ in how they treat disclosure of a fracking chemical  that may be a  “trade secret”.  Several states (including Idaho,  Indiana, West Virginia and Wyoming) clearly  require that even “trade secret” information  must be  provided to the state regulatory agency.  Those states generally rely  on an existing trade secret exemption in the state’s  public records  act to keep the information confidential and prevent disclosure to the public. Other states (such as Montana and Louisiana)  allow the operator to withhold the chemical name of an additive considered to be a trade secret from both state regulators and the public; only the chemical family must be  reported.  In states that allow a well operator to withhold trade secret information from the regulatory agency, the agency can generally request the trade secret information if needed to respond to a spill or citizen complaint. In several states, trade secret information is clearly protected from disclosure to the public, but it is more difficult (on a quick review) to tell whether the information can also be withheld from the regulatory agency.  Most  states   require that trade secret information must be provided to a health professional if needed for diagnosis or treatment of a patient.  The draft rule under consideration in North Carolina would be similar to those in the more restrictive states –the regulatory agency would only receive trade secret information by request in response to a spill, leak or citizen complaint.See Hydraulic Fracturing Disclosure Requirements (a document prepared by the Vinson & Elkins law firm) for a helpful state by state summary of disclosure requirements updated through October 2012.

North Carolina’s public records act  requires  state agencies to keep  “trade secret”  information confidential. To be protected from release under the public records act, the information  has to meet the definition of a “trade secret” and be designated as a confidential trade secret when it is submitted to the agency. (N.C. General Statute 132-1.2.)  The N.C. trade secrets exemption does not allow businesses and industries to use the trade secret designation to withhold information from a regulatory agency that would otherwise have to be submitted.