Texas disclosure laws give hazy view of fracking fluid

An environmental group is raising new questions about the frequency of trade secret exemptions used by natural gas drillers when disclosing chemicals used in fracking fluids in Texas.

The Environmental Defense Fund found 29 percent of chemicals used in fracking fluid during July 2012 in Texas were claimed as trade secrets by companies, according to a Dec. 12 analysis.

The group also found 29 percent of the chemical identification numbers listed on the FracFocus website, a registry used by the oil and gas industry to voluntarily disclose chemicals, were inaccurate. Those identifiers did not exist in the official Chemical Abstract Service registry, the group reported.

Texas began to require natural gas drillers to disclose chemicals used in the controversial hydraulic fracturing process in February. The new law, however, included a provision that allowed companies to withhold chemicals deemed as trade secrets.

Natural gas drillers claim the trade secret provision is essential to ensure competitive balance.

“Without such protection, companies would have no incentive to develop and put into use new technologies that are both environmentally beneficial and more effective,” Susie McMichael, a Halliburton Co. spokeswoman, told Bloomberg on Nov. 29.

However, the provision has stirred concerns from environmentalists and some lawmakers about the effectiveness of the new disclosure law.

Those critics have claimed the provision ultimately weakens the law, because it allows companies to withhold critical information.

“This disclosure bill has a hole big enough to drive a Mack truck through,” Lon Burnam, a Democratic state representative and co-author of the law, told Bloomberg. “Is it meaningless because there are so many exemptions? I’m afraid it may be.”

According to the Bloomberg News article, one out of every five chemicals used on a well site is withheld due to a trade secret. Bloomberg also reported drilling companies claimed about 19,000 trade secret exemptions in Texas through August.

The analysis found Halliburton and Houston-based Baker Hughes withheld more than nine trade secrets per well. Superior Well Services, a Nabors Industries subsidiary, claimed the most trade secrets with an average of 32 per well.

A similar analysis by EnergyWire found 65 percent of disclosures involved at least one trade secret.