In a major shift quietly announced Thursday, a leading hydraulic fracturing supplier said it would begin disclosing all of the chemicals used in so-called fracking without regard to trade secrets.
Houston-based Baker Hughes said it "believes it is possible to disclose 100% of the chemical ingredients we use in hydraulic fracturing fluids without compromising our formulations — a balance that increases public trust while encouraging commercial innovation."
The declaration, first reported by EnergyWire, contained one potentially big hedge: The company said it would provide "complete lists" of products and chemicals only "(w)here accepted by our customers and relevant governmental authorities."
The shift comes a month after a U.S. Energy Department task force recommended changes to improve transparency at FracFocus, where companies can voluntarily report the chemicals they use. The Energy Department's March report found that hat 84% of the wells registered on FracFocus invoked a trade secret exemption for at least one chemical.
The website was established by the industry and state water regulators after Wyoming enacted the nation's first fracking disclosure law in 2010. Since then, 17 other states have followed suit.
Critics say the site, managed by the Groundwater Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, is flawed, because submissions are not reviewed for accuracy and states allow companies to invoke trade secrets and not reveal certain chemicals. They also say the data are not presented in a user-friendly form.
Most energy companies and some state regulators have objected to public disclosures of what's in the mixture of sand, water and chemicals injected underground at high pressure to release trapped oil and natural gas. They argue those are proprietary formulas that must be protected for competitive advantage.
The fluids include acids, detergents, poisons and other toxic substances not regulated by the federal government.
Baker Hughes' change distances itself from Halliburton, Schlumberger and other competitors, and comes amid increasing concerns about possible groundwater contamination around fracking operations.
Bernard Goldstein, the former dean of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, called the Baker Hughes announcement "really good news."
"It's a step in the right direction," he told the Associated Press. "One hopes that the entire industry goes along with it."
One prominent critic of FracFocus agreed.
"If they've found a way to report with better disclosure, I'm on board," Kate Konschnik, policy director of Harvard Law School's Environmental Law Program, told EnergyWire. Her program recommended changes to the site in a critique published last year.
In a 2012 "white paper," Baker Hughes defended fracking and the company's environmental policies.
Earlier this week, KERA-FM in Dallas discussed the pros and cons of fracking withWall Street Journal reporter Russell Gold, author of the recently published The Boom: How Fracking Ignited the American Energy Revolution and Changed the World.