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Halliburton Winning Battle in Pennsylvania to Keep Its Fracking Secrets

Of the nine companies EPA has asked for full disclosure of the chemicals used in gas drilling, only Halliburton has refused

by Marie C. Baca,

Nov 18, 2010

On Nov. 9, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that Halliburton had refused to give the agency a complete list of the chemicals it uses for gas drilling, resulting in a subpoena for the energy giant. But the battle to keep much of this information confidential is one that Halliburton is winning in Pennsylvania.

Halliburton did not respond to requests for comment on this article, but a company spokeswoman that the EPA had approached Halliburton with "unreasonable demands" and that the company was working to supply the agency with the information it needs to complete its study of the relationship between water contamination and the controversial drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

Of the nine companies the EPA asked to supply the information, only Halliburton -- the largest North American provider of hydraulic fracturing services -- refused.

Halliburton has worked hard to keep the contents of its fracking fluids secret, but the campaign has become more difficult as environmental advocates and researchers push for full disclosure. But in Pennsylvania, a state that is undergoing a natural gas drilling boom in the Marcellus Shale rock formation, regulators appear willing to accept Halliburton's argument that it should be allowed to keep details about its chemicals secret in order to maintain its competitive advantage.

Fracking shoots millions of gallons of water mixed with chemicals underground at high pressures to break rock and release natural gas. The process is currently exempt from federal regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act as a result of assurances by the Bush-era EPA that fracking posed no harm to water supplies. In October 2009, after receiving reports of contamination near fracking sites and complaints that the agency's position was based on outdated and incomplete information, Congress ordered the EPA to conduct a comprehensive study of the technique.

The EPA said earlier this year that the study would examine a broad scope of activities associated with fracking, and that drilling companies would have to provide information about their chemicals so the effects of those activities could be tracked over time.

"There's just so much we don't know about the effects of fracking," said Gwen Lachelt, oil and gas accountability project director for the Colorado-based advocacy group Earthworks. "We deserve to have that question answered, and that can't be done without full public disclosure."

'Small But Critically Important'

Pennsylvania is also making an effort to address concerns about fracking by revising its oil and gas regulations, which haven't been updated since 1989. On July 10 of this year, the state environmental quality board released a draft of proposed amendments to the existing rules, including a provision for the Department of Environmental Protection to collect "a list of hydraulic fracturing chemicals used" in each completed well.

In the public comment period that followed, more than 2,000 individuals and organizations, including Halliburton, offered their feedback on the proposal.

(PDF), dated Aug. 9 and submitted by the law firm Manko, Gold, Katcher & Fox LLP, expressed concern for the "small but critically important universe of proprietary chemicals." "Operators and service companies already disclose substantial information regarding the fluids used in hydraulic fracturing operations," said the letter. "Pennsylvania has longstanding and strong policies that recognize and favor the protection of proprietary information and trade secrets because of the innovation that such protections support." The letter listed a series of cases in which Pennsylvania courts have "invoked a broad range of remedies in instances where trade secrets have been, or are threatened to be, misappropriated."

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