Legal loophole keeps fracturing mixes murky

Legal loophole keeps fracturing mixes murky by Jennifer Hiller, February 3, 2013, Fuelfix
It’s been a year since the Texas oil and gas industry had to start disclosing the mix of water and chemicals it uses for hydraulic fracturing. But thanks to a loophole in state law that allows companies to withhold trade secrets, it’s still largely unclear exactly which chemicals are being pumped thousands of feet underground. Of 12,410 instances of hydraulic fracturing in Texas between April 2011 and early December 2012, companies used terms such as “proprietary,” “secret” or “confidential” 10,120 times while reporting data on the website, according to data collected through early December by the Houston-based Pivot Upstream Group and analyzed by the San Antonio Express-News.

In the Eagle Ford Shale, the South Texas field that has become one of the hottest oil and gas plays in the nation, the trade secret exemption was used 2,297 times in 3,100 fracturing events. “I think it’s a loophole big enough you can drive a frack truck through,” said Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas, referring to the army of trucks that arrive at a well site for a fracturing job. …

On Feb. 1, 2012, Texas started requiring operators to disclose the composition of fracking fluids on FracFocus. But the law also allows companies to withhold the “identity and amount of the chemical ingredient used” as a trade secret. And it lets companies determine what is a trade secret. “What’s the point? Where is the value in that?” asked landowner Bill Sibley, whose family owns ranches in Atascosa, McMullen and Duval counties that once belonged to his great-grandfather. … “There are some of us who have been on the land a long time. We really understand the value of water,”

Joe McCord of Pivot Upstream Data, which scraped the data from digitized documents on, said some companies report more complete information than others. “They may tell you the ingredients but not the exact recipe,” McCord said. “Some may say, ‘Here’s the trade name and we’re not telling you what’s in it or the percentages we used. We’re telling you nothing.’ They can claim degrees of proprietary information.”

But even then, that database won’t include historic information on fracking — just new wells reported under the new system. FracFocus would have to scrape data from its own website the same way that Pivot Upstream Group and SkyTruth have done. [Emphasis added]

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