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Two Companies Seek Trade Secret Status for Fracking Fluids in Wyoming

New rules in Wyoming require natural gas drilling companies to disclose the makeup of their hydraulic fracturing fluids, but two chemical manufacturers don’t want to share their formulas with the public.

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A drilling rig on the Pinedale Anticline with the Wyoming Range in the background. (Wendy Shattil/Bob Rozinksi - International League of Conservation Photographers/Flickr)

This post has been corrected (11/3/2010).

Two chemical manufacturers are seeking an exemption from new rules in Wyoming that require public disclosure of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, a controversial natural gas drilling process suspected of polluting groundwater.

ChemEOR, based in Covina, Calif., and CESI Chemical Inc., based in Marlow, Okla., have asked the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to grant their fracturing fluids trade secret status, according to state oil and gas supervisor Tom Doll. The designation would still require the companies to share their formulas with the state but would exempt them from making the information available to the public.

"Disclosure is the rule," Doll said. "Anything else is a rare exception, and one we will look at very, very closely."

Doll said most companies that have approached him over the past month have said they are willing to give their chemical information to both the agency and the public.

The new rules, which went into effect Sept. 15, require drilling companies to tell regulators which chemicals they plan to use in each well before the well is approved. Companies must also disclose the concentrations of the chemicals they used once the operation is complete. The list of chemicals and concentrations is available to the public on the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission website.

If a company claims that certain information is a trade secret, the commission or state courts would review the request and, if approved, the relevant information would be withheld from the public.

Chemical and drilling companies have long argued that their products are safe and that sharing their proprietary information, as the Wyoming law now requires, would harm the industry.

"We’re not doing this because it's a personal interest," said Patrick Shuler, vice president of technology and development at ChemEOR. "We're trying to keep our people gainfully employed, and that means maintaining our trade secrets and our competitive advantage."

CESI Chemical did not respond to requests for comment.

Environmentalists and researchers say that if the Wyoming law is implemented as promised, it could create the most comprehensive data yet for studying the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and water contamination.

"If disclosure hurts the industry, then that's a problem with the industry," said Deb Thomas, an organizer with the Powder River Basin Resource Council, a Wyoming environmental group. "We shouldn't be protecting these companies at the expense of the public."

While the new law makes it difficult for companies to keep the chemicals they use secret, there is a loophole that allows them to delay the disclosure. Under Wyoming law, companies can keep information about their "first, exploratory" well -- also known as a "wildcat well" -- confidential for six months. The new law maintains this provision.

This loophole dates back to earlier gas drilling legislation, Doll said, and is meant to allow companies to maintain their competitive advantage while they determine the viability of a new drilling area. Once the company files a completion report or the six months expires, the information is no longer confidential.

Drilling companies can ask for an additional six-month confidentiality extension, but Doll has been reluctant to do that. He said he is currently reviewing some 200 wells that were given confidential status before the new guidelines went into effect.

If you want to check out the chemicals used in Wyoming’s wells, you need two of the three following pieces of data: an API number (the unique number assigned to each well), the name of the company that operates the well, and/or the location of the well. Much of this information can be found on the "Horizontal Wells" link on the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation website. A list of the chemicals that drillers plan to use in each well can then be found by clicking on the "APD's" link on the main page. The list of the chemicals and concentrations that were actually used in those wells can be found by clicking the "Completions" link on the main page.

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that ChemEOR was a subsidiary of Flotek Industries Inc. CESI Chemical, not ChemEOR, is a subsidiary of Flotek.

Boris Matthews

Nov. 2, 2010, 3:50 p.m.

Thank you for the update. Disclosure is imperative. I applaud Wyoming oil and gas supervisor Tom Doll’s apparent rigor.
Keep up the good work at ProPublica?

This is encouraging news. It’s actually remarkable to see something resembling environmental protection going on in Wyoming. This sort of disclosure requirement might just protect Wyoming residents and their water.

When will people start shouting about this? When your children die at a young age?

Wyoming may not be a heavily populated state, but if its citizens started making demands their elected officials would have to start listening to them, and finally telling their constituents the truth, or be voted out of office.

It sounds like state agencies are in fact taking this issue seriously. Dick Cheney won’t like it, but the water will still be drinkable.

If any substance at all is to be used where the public will come in contact directly or indirectly with it then the public has the RIGHT to know how that substance will impact its health, freedom, life style and economy.

Keeping a company “competitive” is not sufficient cause to risk the lives and well-being of human beings…nothing in the end is or can be.  Anyone who believes otherwise is flying in the face of this core principle.  That someone should then himself prove by his own intake of the substance over long periods that it is safe for others.  If he dies or becomes gravely ill from the substance’s ingestion then that substance constitutes a health risk negating any industry claims to “competitiveness”

I repeat - if they claim its safe then the claimants must themselves publicly consume that substance until it is proven to be safe.  Otherwise do not attempt to keep something secret that the public has a overriding right to know.

“We’re trying to keep our people gainfully employed…”

That’s what they say. But does ChemEOR, a subsidiary of Flotek Industries Inc., really exist for that purpose, to keep people gainfully employed?

I suspect their primary purpose is otherwise.

Why don’t they just patent their “secret” mixture and then there is no danger if it is exposed to the public?

Not wanting to tell us what chemicals they are pumping into the ground (water supply) is unacceptable. Watch the movie “Gas Land” and you will find out why this is very dangerous.

Do you wnat your drinking water to be flamable? Me either. Hiding behind a “proprietary formulas” excuse is bogus and total BS. It is not necessary. Patent laws can protect them and we certainly know they have enough cash to file a patent.

Stop letting these dirty industries destroy our environment for the sake of profits. NOW!

Our politions in pennsylvania really don’t care what’s in the frack fluid that secret mixture is just part of a long line of secrects an misinformation they have been shoving down our throats.Our newly elected governer ( Corbett) said on his first day in office he will lift the moratorium on fracking in our state forest lands approx. a million acreas in northern pa.the place where most of our clean drinking water comes from ,funny how he accepted 800,000 dollars for his campaign from the same people! He also said he opposes a gas severance tax,you know that funny little thing every other state has to fund the rebuilding of roads and bridges the heavy truck traffic destroys and pays to clean up the mess and pollution that they leave behind.We still don’t have 2% of the nessesary waste treatment plants to handle the treatment of the used frac water their already putting back into our water supply! We need alot of help to save our wild places and water supply from this all out greed!

How different would frack fluid cocktails likely be from one company to next as a practical matter? Not much I expect. They need certain chemicals for certain purposes. No wheels need be re-invented from one company to the next. This means “competitiveness” is likely moot and a bogus excuse to keep chemicals secret because they don’t want general public to know how dangerous they are and exactly what the health effects are especially on children, fetal brain development in utero etc. Outrageous that regulators letting gas co’s get away with this dumb excuse. Gas drillers fond of saying chemicals are “like household cleaners” which are far from harmless.

Dominick said above: “Keeping a company ‘competitive’ is not sufficient cause to risk the lives and well-being of human beings.”  This assumes competitiveness is truly at issue which I tend to believe it is not.

Seeing methane in a water well, beyond trace amounts that are often present naturally, is as a result of poor drilling and cementing practices by the oil company.  It has nothing to do with hydraulic fracturing.  Companies that provide frac service make virtually all of their profit on the ‘chemicals’ they use - not on the physical assets they provide on a drilling location - (pumps, Control systems, etc.) - so they are attempting to prevent the oil companies from ‘commoditizing’ these products.  Full disclosure is inevitable - but there will be attempts to delay by companies like Schlumberger & Weatherford.

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:
Fracking

Fracking: Gas Drilling's Environmental Threat

The promise of abundant natural gas is colliding with fears about water contamination.

The Story So Far

The country’s push to find clean domestic energy has zeroed in on natural gas, but cases of water contamination have raised serious questions about the primary drilling method being used. Vast deposits of natural gas, large enough to supply the country for decades, have brought a drilling boom stretching across 31 states. The drilling technique being used, called hydraulic fracturing, shoots water, sand and toxic chemicals into the ground to break up rock and release the gas.

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