Secret Recipes Shouldn't Have a Place in Fracking

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By Mary Duenwald

If ever an illustration was needed of why oil- and gas-drilling companies should be required to disclose the chemicals they pump underground, the Bloomberg News article highlighting a mysterious mixture used in Texas last summer supplies it.

Texas law technically requires that chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing operations to extract oil and gas from deep rock be publicly revealed on FracFocus, a national industry-supported website. But like similar laws in many other states, the Texas statute allows companies an exemption for drilling-mixture ingredients that are considered trade secrets. The mixture used by a subsidiary of Nabors Indusries Ltd. in a half-dozen oil wells in Karnes County last July, known as "EXP-F0173-11," was given that exemption, as Ben Elgin, Benjamin Haas and Phil Kuntz reported.

Some 19,000 such trade-secret claims were made in Texas this year through August, the reporters found, and, nationally, companies claim secret status or fail to identify their drilling chemicals 22 percent of the time. The chemicals are then described only in general terms, for example as a "polymer" or a "surfactant" or, as in the case of one of the EXP-F0173-11 ingredients, a "solvent." This solvent is a substance that, if ingested, can cause damage to the kidney and liver.

When the public doesn't know what substances fracking mixtures contain, it becomes harder to respond to an accident that may occur if fracking water is improperly handled or there is a spill.

Drilling companies have reason to want to protect their proprietary fracking-mix recipes. However, as Bloomberg View has written, all ingredients should at least be disclosed to state regulators, even if some of them are shielded from the public at large.

A federal law likewise requiring that oil and gas companies disclose all frack-fluid ingredients would help solve the problem in every state -- and protect people who live near states that allow companies too much secrecy.

(Mary Duenwald is an editor for Bloomberg View.)

Read more breaking commentary from Bloomberg View at the Ticker.

-0- Nov/30/2012 17:51 GMT