In mid-August, 2008, news broke that Cathy Behr, an emergency room nurse in Durango, Colorado, had almost died after treating a wildcatter who had been splashed in a fracking fluid spill at a BP natural gas rig. Behr stripped the man and stuffed his clothes into plastic bags while the hospital sounded alarms and locked down the ER. The worker was released. But a few days later Behr lay in critical condition facing multiple organ failure.
Her doctors searched for details that could save their patient. The substance was a drill stimulation fluid called ZetaFlow, but the only information the rig workers provided was a vague Material Safety Data Sheet, a form required by OSHA. Doctors wanted to know precisely what chemicals make up ZetaFlow and in what concentration. But the MSDS listed that information as proprietary.
Behr’s doctor learned, weeks later, after Behr had begun to recuperate, what ZetaFlow was made of, but he was sworn to secrecy by the chemical’s manufacturer and couldn’t even share the information with his patient.
News of Behr’s case spread to New York and Pennsylvania, amplifying the cry for disclosure of drilling fluids. The energy industry braced for a fight.
"A disclosure to members of the public of detailed information…would result in an unconstitutional taking of [Halliburton’s] property," the company told Colorado’s Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.
.. Halliburton fired a major salvo: If lawmakers forced the company to disclose its recipes, the letter stated, it "will have little choice but to pull its proprietary products out of Colorado." The company’s attorneys warned that if the three big fracking companies left, they would take some $29 billion in future gas-related tax and royalty revenue with them over the next decade.
In August, the industry struck a compromise by agreeing to reveal the chemicals in fracturing fluids to health officials and regulators -- but the agreement applies only to chemicals stored in 50 gallon drums or larger. As a practical matter, drilling workers in Colorado and Wyoming said in interviews that the fluids are often kept in smaller quantities. That means at least some of the ingredients won’t be disclosed.
"They’ll never get it," says Bruce Baizel, a Colorado attorney with the Oil and Gas Accountability Project, about the states’ quest for information. "Not unless they are willing to go through a lawsuit. When push comes to shove, Halliburton is there with its attorneys."
Asked for comment, Halliburton would only say that its business depended on protecting such information. Schlumberger and BJ Services, the two other largest fracturing companies, did not return calls for comment.
Lee Fuller, vice-president for government relations at The Independent Petroleum Association of America, said the oil and gas industry’s reluctance to release information about drilling chemicals is to be expected. "These operations are ones where companies have spent millions of dollars," he says. "They are not going to want to give up that competitive advantage. So I would fully expect that they will try to protect that right as long as they possibly can."
Source: Buried Secrets: Is Natural Gas Drilling Endangering U.S. Water Supplies?