In this April 23, 2010 photo, a Chesapeake Energy natural gas well site is seen near Burlington, Pa. (AP Photo/Ralph Wilson)
by Nicholas Kusnetz
ProPublica, June 20, 2011, 4:36 p.m.
Over the past year, five states have begun requiring energy companies to disclose some of the chemicals they pump into the ground to extract oil and gas using the process of hydraulic fracturing.
While state regulators and the drilling industry say the rules should help resolve concerns about the safety of drilling, critics and some scientists say the requirements fall short of what’s needed to fully understand the risks to public health and the environment.
The regulations allow companies to keep proprietary chemicals secret from the public and, in some states, from regulators. Though most of the states require companies to report the volume and concentration of different drilling products, no state asks for the amounts of all the ingredients, a gap that some say is disturbing.
“It’s a shell game,” said Theo Colborn, an environmental health analyst who has testified before Congress about the dangers of drilling chemicals. Colborn and her organization, TEDX, examine the long-term health risks of chemicals and have opposed the expansion of drilling in Colorado and elsewhere. “They’re not telling you everything that there is to know.”
Others say the regulations, despite some flaws, are moving in the right direction. “It’s just a step in the process,” said the Sierra Club’s Cyrus Reed, who worked on a bill signed into law in Texas on Friday .
Most drillers have supported the measures. Some say more complete disclosure isn’t necessary because the information that remains secret involves only nonhazardous chemicals or trade secrets that are a small fraction of products they inject. Energy companies recently have begun voluntarily disclosing some of the chemicals they use on FracFocus , a web site run by two groups representing state regulators.
“While we support disclosing our ingredients, it is critical to our business that we protect our recipe,” Tara Mullee Agard, a spokeswoman for Halliburton, one of the world’s largest oil and gas service companies, told ProPublica in an email.
Gas drilling has surged across the country over the past few years due to technological advances that include hydraulic fracturing, in which drillers pump millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals underground to free up trapped deposits of natural gas. Energy companies are increasingly using the technique, dubbed “fracking,” in oil recovery, particularly in Texas and North Dakota.
ProPublica first began reporting  on health and environmental concerns surrounding fracking three years ago. Gas companies are exempt from federal laws protecting water supplies, leaving it up to states to decide what sort of regulations are needed to protect ground and surface water.