Two-thirds of frack disclosures omit ‘secrets’

Two-thirds of frack disclosures omit ‘secrets’ by Mike Soraghan, September 26, 2012, E&E News
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 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.”

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 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. (97 percent). At the other end, 38 percent of disclosures for wells fractured in Pennsylvania had trade secret claims, and West Virginia’s rate was 9 percent. … Trade secret protection has been one of the biggest sticking points in the fracking fluid disclosure debate, if not the biggest.

….trade secret provisions have created big loopholes in the laws that states are passing to require public disclosure. 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. … 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 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 Inflo 250 W. But a chemical information sheet filed in Ohio indicates the product contains toxic methanol and 2-Butoxyethanol, a fracturing ingredient cited in several contamination allegations, and other hazardous components (Greenwire, Dec. 20, 2010). … Companies also have argued that too much disclosure also could hinder efforts to develop new, less toxic fracturing chemicals. … 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.” [Emphasis added]

PIVOT Upstream’s D-Frac database

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