HYDRAULIC FRACTURING: Two-Thirds of Frack Disclosures Omit
26 September 2012
Mike Soraghan, E&E reporter
Two out of every three times oil and gas companies have publicly
disclosed the chemicals in their hydraulic fracturing fluid,
they've left something out.
At least one chemical was kept secret in 65 percent of fracking
disclosures by companies that said they needed to protect
confidential business information, according to a review of PIVOT
Upstream Group's D-Frac database http://pivotupstreamgroup.com/D-FRAC.aspx
done for EnergyWire.
Critics of drilling say the widespread use of such "trade secret"
exemptions undermines the industry's assurances that drillers are
being open with the communities where they are "fracking" wells
and producing oil and gas.
"It's outrageous that citizens are not getting all the information
they need about fracking near their homes," said Amy Mall, who
tracks drilling issues for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
"Companies should not be able to keep secrets about potentially
dangerous chemicals they're bringing into communities and
injecting into the ground near drinking water."
But companies say they spend millions of dollars researching and
developing new formulations of frack fluid and shouldn't have to
give away their secret recipes.
And, industry groups say, the trade secret debate shouldn't
overshadow just how much information their member companies are
"In just the past 18 months, the industry has spearheaded an
effort that took us from an idea on paper about disclosure to a
fully functional and user-friendly disclosure system," said Steve
Everley of Energy in Depth, a campaign of the Independent
Petroleum Association of America. "That kind of commitment and
progress cannot be overstated in a discussion about industry
In Utah, where disclosure is not yet mandatory, 94 percent of
disclosures have at least one trade secret claim. That is the
highest of any state with more than 100 disclosures. New Mexico
was second with 84 percent. Disclosure is mandatory in New Mexico
but not to the commonly used FracFocus.org registry from which
PIVOT draws its information.
All of BP America Production Co.'s 230 disclosures included at
least one trade secret, according to the data. BP and Howell Oil
& Gas, a small Texas company, were the only firms with more
than 100 disclosures to have trade secret claims in all of their
wells. Rounding out the top five were Exco Resources Inc. (98
percent), Devon Energy Corp. (97 percent) and Noble Energy Inc.
At the other end, 38 percent of disclosures for wells fractured in
Pennsylvania had trade secret claims, and West Virginia's rate was
The trade secret debate
Trade secret protection has been one of the biggest sticking
points in the fracking fluid disclosure debate, if not the
Trade secrets by state
State Total entries Trade
695 586 84%
278 223 80%
1,244 948 76%
Texas 8,916 6,551 73%
960 699 73%
North Dakota 804
927 561 61%
864 443 51%
3,652 1,832 50%
West Virginia 169
TOTAL 21,001 13,743 65%
Source: Pivot Upstream's D-Frac database, which draws information
from FracFocus.org and other sources.
* 23 other entries for Alaska are still being entered into the
D-Frac Database. Each includes a trade secret claim.
For years, oil and gas companies opposed the disclosure of the
contents of their fracking fluid by saying that giving away their
proprietary recipes would put them at a competitive disadvantage.
Now, environmentalists say trade secret provisions have created
big loopholes in the laws that states are passing to require
Drillers have rallied behind the privately run, industry-funded
FracFocus site. And many state governments have adopted the site
for mandatory disclosure of chemicals used in their states.
Environmentalists and others suspect that companies cite "trade
secret" information when they simply don't want to disclose the
toxic chemicals they have pumped underground. They say the oil and
gas industry gets preferential treatment over other industries
because state oil and gas officials allow drillers to claim trade
secret protection without oversight.
In New Mexico, for example, state rules allow companies to decide
what they consider trade secrets. That decision can be challenged
in court if someone disagrees.
Environmental groups have sued the Wyoming Oil and Gas Compact
Commission for allowing trade secret protection too easily
, March 27). Environmentalists had praised Wyoming as a leader in
disclosure when the rules were announced, but now they say the
state's handling of trade secrets undermined its achievement.
The National Resources Defense Council issued a report in July
that criticized the ease with which state officials grant trade
secret protections to oil and gas companies (EnergyWire http://www.eenews.net/energywire/2012/07/30/archive/3,
July 30). The report said that no states are providing
comprehensive disclosure and state-level enforcement is uneven.
The trade secret data was provided by PIVOT Upstream, which is the
only company that has managed to convert the PDF documents
provided by FracFocus into tabular data that can be used for
broader analysis. Its D-Frac database combines data from FracFocus
and other sources. PIVOT provided EnergyWire with data on any
disclosures with "secret," "confidential," "CBI" (confidential
business information) or "proprietary" in the categories of trade
name, ingredient, purpose or "CAS Number," the unique identifier
for each chemical.
The analysis did not include any trade secret claims about the
amount of chemicals in the fracturing fluid.
Some of the chemicals kept secret are toxic. Wyoming granted trade
secret status to the ChemEOR product http://wogcc.state.wy.us/tradesecrets/TS2010_1%20ChemEOR.pdf
Inflo 250 W. But a chemical information sheet http://www.ohiodnr.com/Portals/11/oil/baker-hughes/InFlo_250W.pdf
filed in Ohio indicates the product contains toxic methanol and
2-Butoxyethanol, a fracturing ingredient cited in several
contamination allegations, and other hazardous components
, Dec. 20, 2010).
But drilling companies, and the service companies that provide
fracturing fluid, say disclosing those chemicals to the public
would also give away valuable information to their competitors.
Halliburton Co. said it spent "tens of millions of dollars" across
five years researching new fracturing fluids. The oil field
services company said that public disclosure of its proprietary
formulas could cost it $375 million (Greenwire http://www.eenews.net/Greenwire/2010/12/20/archive/1
, Jan. 20). ChemEOR, a Los Angeles-based oil-field chemical
company, told Wyoming regulators it spent more than $400,000
directly on research and development of InFlo 250 W.
Companies also have argued that too much disclosure also could
hinder efforts to develop new, less toxic fracturing chemicals.
They say they have no incentive to invest in research if their
innovations will simply be given away.
An Obama administration panel that looked at fracking and drilling
was dismissive of industry fears about public disclosure but also
said there needs to be "an exception for genuinely proprietary
information" (Greenwire http://www.eenews.net/Greenwire/2011/08/11/archive/1
, Aug. 11, 2011).
Industry notes that U.S. EPA allows companies to withhold trade
secret information from its well-known Toxics Release Inventory.
The FracFocus site says companies that have agreed to voluntarily
disclose their frack fluid chemicals except for chemicals that
qualify as trade secrets under the Occupational Safety and Health
Administration's worker safety laws.
Service companies like Halliburton and chemical manufacturers are
known to be the most interested in zealously guarding the
confidentiality of their recipes. But some drillers see the
secrecy as overblown. Jim Felton, a spokesman for Bill Barrett
Corp. in Denver, said his company expects to reduce the number of
trade secret claims in its disclosures.
"After all, virtually all our operations currently are in areas
involving other operators," Felton said, "the point being that we
are all using the same frac crews and performing essentially the
same fracs into the same formations."
Click here http://pivotupstreamgroup.com/D-FRAC.aspx
to see more on PIVOT Upstream's D-Frac database.
Click here http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=INTERPRETATIONS&p_id=24263
to see OSHA's interpretation of trade secret rules.