In Pennsylvania, companies are required to publicly disclose the chemicals they use for hydraulic fracturing, but they are allowed to make exceptions for “trade secrets.”
EnergyWire reports that Baker Hughes, a major service company for the oil and natural gas industry, has quietly implemented a new policy to disclose the ingredients in its fracking fluid — no exceptions.
The full recipes will be posted to the website FracFocus.org which has become a national clearinghouse for information about fracking chemicals. According to the company’s website, Baker Hughes says it will help achieve ”a balance that increases public trust while encouraging commercial innovation.”
A critic of the current system for disclosure said she was heartened by Baker Hughes’ change in policy.
“If they’ve found a way to report with better disclosure, I’m on board,” said Kate Konschnik, policy director of Harvard Law School’s Environmental Law Program. “It’s a step in the right direction.”
But Halliburton Co., a Baker Hughes competitor, along with trade groups such as the American Petroleum Institute (API) and America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA), have defended the current level of protection for trade secrets.
“A company’s trade secrets can be among its most important assets — the key intellectual property that allows it to keep its market position for its products or services and provide value to its shareholders,” API, ANGA and other industry groups wrote last month in joint comments about a government report about FracFocus.
Trade secret exemptions have emerged as the latest sticking point in the tug of war between environmentalists and drilling companies about disclosure of the chemicals used in fracking.
Those chemicals make up only a small fraction of the volume of the fluid that is blasted underground to shatter rock formations and release oil and gas. But with modern “frack jobs” using millions of gallons of water, even small percentages can add up.
Service companies like Baker Hughes, Schlumberger and Halliburton are contracted out by exploration and production companies (known in the industry as “E&Ps”) and fill out disclosure forms on behalf of those companies. In Pennsylvania, Act 13 requires the companies to post that information to the FracFocus website within 60 days of completing a frack, in addition to submitting a form to the Department of Environmental Protection.
Last year, a Harvard Law School study led by Kate Konschnik concluded that FracFocus failed as a regulatory compliance tool. The study found disclosures were often incomplete or inaccurate. FracFocus has since made some improvements to the site, but still only offers chemical disclosure information in PDF format on a well-by-well basis without the ability to download a complete database of wells.
The federal Bureau of Land Management is currently considering whether to use FracFocus for drilling under federal and tribal lands. A task force convened by the Department of Energy to review FracFocus recently concluded that the site has improved public disclosure “quickly and with a significant degree of uniformity” and made several suggestions for improvement including full disclosure “with few, if any exceptions.”