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Baker Hughes starts disclosing frac chemicals

SAN ANTONIO — Baker Hughes Inc. this month will start disclosing all of the chemicals it uses during hydraulic fracturing — the first of the major oil field service companies to adopt a policy of transparency.

The Houston-based company said will not make any trade secret claims in the information it posts on the industry website FracFocus.org starting with wells fractured on or after Oct. 1.

The process pumps water and chemicals at high pressure to break shale. Then sand is added to the mixture to prop open the fissures and let oil and gas flow up the well. Along with horizontal drilling, the use of hydraulic fracturing, known more commonly as fracking, has opened up new shale fields across the U.S.

Among the many chemicals used for fracking are hydrochloric acid, petroleum distillates and ethanol, according to FracFocus.

“The policy we are implementing today is consistent with our belief that we are partners in solving industry challenges, and that we have a responsibility to provide the public with the information they want and deserve,” Derek Mathieson, Baker Hughes chief strategy officer, said in a news release.

Baker Hughes will not detail specific product formulations, but will disclose a single list of all of the chemical constituents and their maximum concentrations.

As shale drilling boomed across the country — and in response to grass-roots concerns about potential environmental or health effects — the oil and gas industry launched FracFocus.org in the spring of 2011 as a national registry for companies to voluntarily report the composition of hydraulic fracturing fluids.

The Ground Water Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission maintain the FracFocus website, which has information on more than 77,000 wells.

Related: Different groups support, oppose disclosure of fracking chemicals

Texas has required operators to disclose the composition of fluids used in hydraulic fracturing on FracFocus since Feb. 1, 2012, but the law allows them to withhold the identity and amount of the chemicals as a trade secret.

The use of the trade secret exemption is widespread.

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 FracFocus.org website, according to data collected by Pivot Upstream Group and analyzed by the San Antonio Express-News.

In the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas, the trade secret exemption was used 2,297 times in 3,100 fracturing events.

In Texas, the only people who can challenge a trade secret claim are the landowner and someone who lives adjacent to them. State regulators also can challenge the use of the exemption.

In 2013, the Harvard Environmental Law Program’s Policy Initiative criticized FracFocus, citing a lack of transparency.

Earlier this year, an Energy Department advisory board said companies were shielding too much information from public view in the FracFocus registry.

 

Express-News and Houston Chronicle archives were used in this report.

jhiller@experss-news.net

Twitter: @Jennifer_Hiller ___

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