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Halliburton's Big "Fracking" Reveal Doesn't Tell Us Much

Halliburton (HAL), the oil field services company that was subpoenaed last week by the EPA for failing to disclose the identity of chemicals in the hydraulic fracturing fluids it uses for unconventional natural gas drilling, has turned around and posted some of that information on a new website. To be clear, this isn't sign of cooperation between Halliburton and the EPA. Nor is it a sudden reversal in the company's stance on proprietary issues.

This is a campaign to quell some of the fear surrounding hydraulic fracturing, one of two important techniques used to tap vast reservoirs of shale gas in North America. And that's not a bad thing. It's just an incomplete thing and it trails efforts from other oilfield companies like Schlumberger.

Hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," pumps a high-pressure mix of water, sand and chemicals thousands of feet underground, breaking up shale formations to release trapped oil and gas. The chemicals used in fracking make up less than 0.5 percent of the overall mix by volume, but they often include hazardous substances such as benzene -- a known carcinogen. Fracking is nothing new. It's actually been used for decades. But the unconventional natural gas boom, which led to thousands of newly drilled wells in the Northeast, has fueled concerns and calls for federal regulation of the practice. The Josh Fox's documentary Gasland, ProPublica's investigation and other media coverage on fracking including a recent 60 Minutes report has amplified those concerns and put Halliburton and others on the defensive.

Here's what Halliburton's new micro website doesn't do:

  • Say how much of chemical has been pumped into the ground;
  • Identify the wells where the chemical solution is used
  • Provide the exact concentration of each chemical in the overall solution
So, is Halliburton doing enough? Not in the eyes of the EPA, which is currently leading a two-year study of hydraulic fracturing and drinking water. Halliburton was the only one out of nine companies to refuse to comply with a voluntary request by the EPA for detailed information on its fracking chemicals. Hence, the recent subpoena.

Halliburton's new eco product
Halliburton also announced Monday that it's developed a new eco-friendlier fracking fluid mix made from materials entirely sourced from the food industry. Halliburton, clearly bracing for stricter regulations, is looking to develop products with fewer hazardous chemicals. And that's exactly what it should be doing because federal regulation will likely create a market for new, more benign fracking products.

Photo from Flickr user stevendepolo, CC 2.0