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Halliburton’s Dirty Secrets Pumped Into WV?

Legislation now before lawmakers could mean first responders would not know what chemicals might be leaking from a fracking industrial accident. Photo by Ed Wade courtesy of the Sierra Club of West Virginia.
Legislation now before lawmakers could mean first responders would not know what chemicals might be leaking from a fracking industrial accident. Photo by Ed Wade courtesy of the Sierra Club of West Virginia.
April 8, 2013

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Landowners, citizen groups and environmentalists are concerned about legislation now before the House of Delegates that would allow drilling companies to keep secret the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing (fracking). Outreach coordinator Chuck Wyrostok, West Virginia Sierra Club, said the industry, led by the huge oilfield service company, Halliburton Corp., has convinced lawmakers in several states to treat the chemical formulas as trade secrets.

The drilling service company wants to do the same thing is West Virginia, Wyrostok warned. That is acting with contempt for the people living around Marcellus natural gas drilling, he said.

"It's pretty ludicrous to say, 'We're gonna pump secret chemicals into the ground, and we're gonna transport them through your towns, past your schools. And I'm sorry, you just can't know what they are,'" Wyrostok said.

Senate Bill 243 inserts what Wyrostok and others call the "Halliburton dirty-secrets amendment" into a bundle of rules proposed by the Department of Environmental Protection. It has passed the Senate and is now before the House Judiciary Committee.

Drillers use hundreds of chemicals to help break up the rock deep underground and get the gas out. Halliburton spokesmen have said the company wants to keep competitors from learning its formulas. But critics say it is more likely they don't want landowners and residents to know.

There are practical reasons for not treating the fracking formulas like CIA secrets, Wyrostok pointed out.

"Say a truck going through a town in West Virginia crashes or ruptures, and no one knows what the chemicals are. How do the first responders react to that? They don't know what's in that truck."

Landowners have a hard time testing their well water for contaminates if they don't know what they're looking for, he said, noting that doctors would have to ask the companies what chemicals might be making their patients sick. No one knows how long the company might take to respond, Wyrostok said, or even if it would. Plus, if the doctors find out what the chemicals are, the new rule would forbid them from telling anyone, he added.

"Basically, it's a gag order," he said. "I don't think the medical community is gonna go along with that. Doctors in Pennsylvania are suing the state over it."

Information about the status of SB 243 is available at http://www.legis.state.wv.us.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV