Baker Hughes to reveal all hydraulic fracturing chemicals

HOUSTON – Baker Hughes says it’s ready to divulge all the chemicals it uses in hydraulic fracturing, revelations that other big industry players have limited by asserting the potions they use to get at trapped oil and gas are trade secrets.

In a statement recently posted on its website, the Houston-based oil field services firm says it “believes it is possible to disclose 100 percent of the chemical ingredients we use in hydraulic fracturing fluids without compromising our formulations — a balance that increases public trust while encouraging commercial innovation.”

Baker Hughes included a disclaimer: It would reveal its chemical data “where accepted by our customers and relevant governmental authorities.” The company said it will take several months for it to negotiate with its suppliers before it can release its data.

The new disclosures, the company said, would eliminate any trade secret claims about its reports to FracFocus, an industry-backed database that regulators in Texas and other states use as a clearinghouse for fracturing-fluid data.

It contains data on more than 68,000 U.S. oil and gas well sites.

Last year, researchers from Harvard’s environmental law program said FracFocus has “serious flaws” because it allows oil producers to withhold information on the fracturing fluids they use, by asserting trade secret exemptions.

And last month, an Energy Department advisory board of engineers and environmentalists concluded FracFocus disclosures hold back too much information, with companies invoking trade-secret exemptions on more than 84 percent of all the registered wells. In Texas, the advisory board noted, more than 5,500 of the 6,400 disclosures invoked a trade secret exemption between last June and March.

Baker Hughes says its new data format will calm those concerns, as it will include in its newly formatted reports a complete analysis of its fluid mixtures, down to tiny trace elements of ammonium hydroxide.

The release of Baker Hughes’ data would come as activist investors and environmental groups press oil companies to disclose the chemicals they use in the modern technique of blasting a mix of water, chemicals and proppants sometimes two miles under the earth’s surface to crack open shale oil and gas reservoirs.

Shareholder groups have so far failed to force Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp. and others to disclose several quantitative metrics around shale-gas drilling, but activists say 30-percent shareholder votes for transparency resolutions at the two largest U.S. oil producers last year indicate the pressure is building. The oil giants say they already report fracturing chemicals to state regulators and such public disclosures would be redundant.

The New York City Pensions Funds, which filed a shareholder resolution last year for Exxon Mobil to publish more shale-gas drilling data, said money managers with at least $1.3 trillion in assets under management support greater transparency around hydraulic fracturing.

Baker Hughes estimates that 60 percent of U.S. natural gas would be trapped in shale and other reservoirs if not for hydraulic fracturing, a technique that has been around for some six decades but only recently targeted shale reserves since the mid-2000s when engineers combined the process with horizontal drilling.

Also on FuelFix:

Inside Colorado’s fracking boom