Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Uncertainty about make-up of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing continues, despite state laws

Many hydraulic fracturing companies in Texas have not revealed the make-up of the chemicals they use to blast into the earth and release hydrocarbons. Texas was the first state to require frackers to disclose their chemicals, but it allows companies to exempt "company secrets" and that's "a loophole big enough you can drive a frack truck through," Luke Metzger, the director of Environment Texas, told Jennifer Hiller reports for the San Antonio Express-News. Fracking companies argue that they deserve the right to protect chemical mixtures they spent lots of money perfecting, while environmentalists say citizens deserve to know what is being used.

"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," Hiller reports, summarizing data collected by the Pivot Upstsream Group. FracFocus is a website where companies can "voluntarily report the composition of hydraulic fracturing fluids," Hiller said.

Hiller used the example of Eagle Ford Shale, a South Texas field that used the trade exemption in 2,297 of its 3,100 fracturing events.  Some local residents are concerned that the exemption is letting companies get by with using chemicals they shouldn't.

"I've heard they've used everything from formaldehyde to instant coffee. Who knows? Nobody knows for sure," Bill Sibley, a Texas rancher, told Hiller. Sibley told Hiller he was happy to have the oil and gas activity on his land, but was worried about chemicals contaminating his water. Landowners and those who live next to lands where fracturing, as well as state regulators, are allowed to challenge trade secret exemptions, Hiller said.

According to FracFocus, many companies use hydrochloric acid, petroleum distillates and ethanol. Industry personnel say the details of the chemicals used are kept secret because of competition.

"You can say 99 percent of the fluid is the same," David Blackmon, a managing director of FTI Consulting and a spokesperson for Energy in Depth, an industry website, told Hiller. "When it comes to the content of chemicals there's a great deal of competition." The 99 percent of the fluid that all companies share is water, Blackmon said, meaning that the undisclosed 1 percent is chemical.

"They've made incredible progress in developing fluids that reduce the overall water use, that allow us to use an ever increasing percentage of briny water rather than fresh water, and to reduce the number of chemicals used in frack jobs, and to use common everyday stuff that you use in your kitchen or bathroom to replace more potent chemicals," Blackmon said.

Lance Robertson, vice president of Eagle ford production operations for Marathon Oil Corp., echoed Blackmon's sentiment at a recent forum, saying "There are more dangerous things under my sink than we pump."

Texas lawmakers are considering a measure that would require companies to let residents within 500 feet of a well know the chemical make-up of what they plan to use for drilling at least 30 days before they begin, Hiller reports. The state requires public disclosure within 30 days after the well is completed or 90 days after drilling is completed, depending on which is earlier. (Read More)

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