John Fenton, a local farmer, stands next to an Encana Corp. gas well near his home in Pavillion, Wyoming, U.S., on July 5, 2012. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said in a draft report last December that this area is the nation’s one established incident of water contamination from hydraulic fracturing. Photographer: Mark Drajem/Bloomberg
Few people outside Nabors, the largest onshore drilling contractor by revenue, know exactly what’s in that blend. This much is clear: One ingredient, an unidentified solvent, can cause damage to the kidney and liver, according to safetyinformation about the product that Michigan state regulators have on file.
A year-old Texas law that requires drillers to disclose chemicals they pump underground during hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” was powerless to compel transparency for EXP- F0173-11. The solvent and several other ingredients in the product are considered a trade secret by Superior Well Services, the Nabors subsidiary. That means they’re exempt from disclosure.
Trade-secret exemptions block information on more than five ingredients for every well in Texas.
Drilling companies in Texas, the biggest oil-and-natural gas producing state, claimed similar exemptions about 19,000 times this year through August, according to their chemical- disclosure reports. Data from the documents were compiled by Pivot Upstream Group, a Houston-based firm that studies theenergy industry, and analyzed by Bloomberg News. Nationwide, companies withheld one out of every five chemicals they used in fracking, a separate examination of a broader database shows.
Trade-secret exemptions block information on more than five ingredients for every well in Texas, undermining the statute’s purpose of informing people about chemicals that are hauled through their communities and injected thousands of feet beneath their homes and farms, said Lon Burnam, a Democratic state representative and a co-author of the law.
“This disclosure bill has a hole big enough to drive a Mack truck through,” Burnam says of thelaw, which he called “much compromised legislation.”
“Is it meaningless because there are so many exemptions?” he asked. “I’m afraid it may be.”