Chemical group disbanded ahead of csg industry approvals
AN INDEPENDENT body tasked with assessing chemical companies' efforts to keep commercial information secret was disbanded months before a series of gas drilling chemicals were approved.
The "technical advisory group" (TAG), was effectively disbanded in late 2013 ahead of wider reforms now under way to the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS).
It advised the regulator on applications from companies to keep commercially sensitive information private on specific chemicals under regulations to protect commercial information.
While a new "strategic consultative committee" was set up late last year, it is understood the new group will not play a role in confidentiality decisions taken by the regulator's director.
During an 18-month interim period when the TAG was not operating, the regulator approved the "Chemical in Duratone HT" and at least 10 other Halliburton chemicals for use in Australia's onshore and offshore gas industries.
The regulator also made changes to its criteria for confidential listing and exemption information applications while the TAG was not in place in late 2014.
Only three industry groups and Halliburton provided submissions on that consultation.
The company argued against having to detail how publication of commercially sensitive information could affect its bottom line.
While that condition was mandatory in the initial consultation paper on the changes in July 2014, the final changes made allowed companies to provide it on a voluntary basis.
National Toxics Network's Dr Mariann Lloyd-Smith, who sat on the TAG, said the Duratone HT approval was a "perfect example" of her concerns about confidentiality decisions.
"What concerns us is that when confidentiality and exempt information decisions are made behind closed doors, without any review, without any independent voice, we believe that is a recipe for disaster into the future."
A Federal Health Department spokeswoman said in a statement the government was not proposing more changes to the confidentiality guidelines.
WHAT HAPPENED WHEN?
September 2013: NICNAS TAG committee disbanded after 2013 election.
December 2013: NICNAS starts reforms to guidelines on "confidential listing" of new chemicals.
January 2014: Halliburton starts introducing several gas drilling chemicals.
August 2014: Halliburton puts in submissions on confidential provisions.
October 2014: NICNAS issues permit for Halliburton to import the Chemical in Duratone HT, pending final assessment.
December 2014: NICNAS changes "confidential listing" guidelines, acting on Halliburton and other industry comments.
July 2015: NICNAS approves Duratone HT for use in drilling operations, subject to conditions.
October 2015: Consultations begin on wider NICNAS reforms.