PITTSBURGH (AP) — A major supplier to the oil and gas industry says it will begin disclosing 100 percent of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluid, with no exemptions for trade secrets. The move by Baker Hughes of Houston is a shift for a major firm; it's unclear if others will follow suit.
The oil and gas industry has said the fracking chemicals are disclosed at tens of thousands of wells, but environmental and health groups and government regulators say a loophole that allows companies to hide chemical "trade secrets" has been a major problem.
A statement on the Baker Hughes website said the company believes it's possible to disclose 100 percent "of the chemical ingredients we use in hydraulic fracturing fluids without compromising our formulations," to increase public trust.
"This really good news. It's a step in the right direction," said Dr. Bernard Goldstein, the former dean of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. "One hopes that the entire industry goes along with it."
But Goldstein noted one "major hedge" in the Baker Hughes position, since the company said it will provide complete lists of the products and chemical ingredients used in frack fluids "where accepted by our customers and relevant governmental authorities."
Still, Goldstein said the Baker Hughes language sets a new standard for transparency and "clearly distinguishes them from Halliburton," another major industry supplier.
Baker Hughes spokeswoman Melanie Kania wrote in an email that it will take "several months" for the new policy to take effect. She said the end result will be a "single list" that provides "all the chemical constituents" for frack fluids, with no trade secrets.
Amy Mall, a policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the Baker Hughes move is a positive step, and that "if one company can do it, it's very clear all companies can do it." Mall said NRDC doesn't believe companies should use the trade secret argument to hide drilling chemicals.
A spokeswoman for Houston-based Halliburton, another major oil and gas supplier, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
A boom in drilling has led to tens of thousands of new wells being drilled in recent years using the fracking process. A mix of water, sand and chemicals is forced into deep underground formations to break rock apart and free oil and gas. That's led to major economic benefits but also fears that the chemicals used in the process could spread to water supplies.
The mix of chemicals varies by company and region — and some of the chemicals are toxic and could cause health problems in significant doses — so the lack of full transparency has worried landowners and public health experts.