"Now, all British Columbians will have access to the information they need to make informed decisions about the industry's operations." That's how the premier pitched a new government requirement for natural gas companies to publicly name the sometimes-toxic and carcinogenic chemicals used to free that resource from shale rock formations. But, in a news release distributed earlier this month, Christy Clark didn't let British Columbians know about a loophole that could allow companies to keep some of those so-called fracking fluids secret.
The chemicals - which are mixed with sand and high-pressurized water before being injected into the formations - have become a source of controversy because of concerns they could contaminate groundwater supplies.
Previously, the government's oil and gas commission had the power to ask natural gas companies to privately disclose those substances. The premier's announcement means that, starting in January 2012, the chemicals will be publicly posted to an online database.
But the province has confirmed natural gas companies will be able to apply to the federal government's hazardous materials information review commission to keep substances they consider to be trade secrets off the database. The final decider will be that commission's chief screening officer.
Similar loopholes have become a source of controversy south of the border, where several states already have fracking fluid disclosure requirements. And it looks like that loophole is going to be controversial in British Columbia too.
Speaking with Public Eye, New Democrat environment critic Rob Fleming said, "It's not a loophole. You could drive a truck through this. The problem with this is it's very likely almost every energy company would consider their fracking fluid mixtures to be a trade secret."