Petroleum services giant Halliburton Co. said this week it has begun publicly disclosing the identity of chemicals in solutions it makes to be pumped into the ground by Pennsylvania’s booming natural gas industry.
A new Halliburton website provides information on the chemicals the company says are in its three most commonly used solutions in the state, where drilling crews are rushing to exploit the Marcellus Shale, the biggest known deposit of natural gas in the nation.
Halliburton does not say how much of each chemical has been pumped into the ground or identify the wells where they are used, nor does it reveal the exact concentration of each chemical in an overall solution. In general, water makes up the lion’s share. Sand comprises about 6 percent while chemical cocktails amount to less than 2 percent.
“We think it’s a great first step,” Halliburton spokeswoman Teresa Wong said.
Many of the chemicals, including hydrochloric acid, methanol and acetic acid, are toxic in high enough doses, and appear in everyday household and industrial solvents, cleaners and adhesives. One chemical, formaldehyde, is classified by the federal government as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.”
Myron Arnowitt, the Pennsylvania state director of nonprofi t environmental advocacy group Clean Water Action, called the information “concerning” and said Halliburton should be able to say which chemical is being used at each well site.
“They should know what they send where. I can’t imagine they don’t know,” Arnowitt said.
Last week, the federal Environmental Protection Agency issued a subpoena to Halliburton, seeking a description of the chemical components used in its hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, solutions that are used to break up the shale and release the natural gas deposits. The EPA said Halliburton refused to voluntarily disclose the chemicals, while eight other major energy companies complied.
Halliburton responded that it has worked to supply the EPA with the information it wants.
Wong said Monday that the new website about fracking chemicals in Pennsylvania was not intended to satisfy the EPA’s request for information.
The Houston-based company plans similar disclosures for other states where the company’s chemicals are being used in the drilling practice, Wong said. She did not identify the other states, and could not immediately say whether other drilling solutions the company produces include chemicals not listed on the website.
State and federal regulators are increasingly seeking disclosure of the chemicals, particularly in the northeastern United States where the use of fracking — in which millions of gallons of water, sand and toxic chemicals are injected into each well at high pressure to break apart the shale and release trapped gas — is raising pollution concerns.
While the industry maintains that fracking has proven to be safe over the decades, homeowners are coming forward with tales of drinking-water wells producing brown, foul-smelling water or water polluted with methane and chemicals.
Drilling-services companies have largely sought to protect their chemical formulas, calling them proprietary.
Pennsylvania state regulations that could be finalized later this year would require disclosure.
The Marcellus Shale lies largely beneath Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia and Ohio. But Pennsylvania is the center of activity, with more than 2,000 wells drilled in the past three years and many thousands more planned, as multinational exploration companies invest billions in the pursuit.
Combining a new process of horizontal drilling with fracking, drillers are mining vast deposits of gas in shale and other impermeable formations around the U.S. — a boom that could ensure cheap and plentiful natural gas for many years to come for homeowners, factories and power plants.
Hydraulic fracturing was first used commercially in 1949 by Halliburton.
While states can regulate drilling, a provision in the 2005 federal energy law passed by Congress prevents the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from regulating fracking. The exemption is commonly called the “Halliburton loophole,” a reference to the company’s pioneering role in fracking and the high-profile role of former Vice President Dick Cheney, a one-time Halliburton CEO, in convening an energy task force that had urged the exemption.
A year ago, Congress ordered the EPA to study potential human health and water quality threats from fracking. Initial results are expected in 2012.
Halliburton fracking site: www.halliburton.com/hydraulicfracturing