When does a trade secret become dangerous to your health? One answer: when it is secret drilling chemicals spilling onto well sites, roads and waterways and endangering you by crippling your doctor's ability to treat you.
The original intent of West Virginia's Marcellus Act of 2011 had been to require drilling companies to disclose to state regulators all the ingredients in hydraulic fracturing chemicals. The goal was to help the regulators track the source of any groundwater contamination that might occur at or near a drilling site.
But one huge out-of-state corporation has convinced our Department of Environmental Protection and our legislators that's it's OK to let companies keep toxic, carcinogenic hydraulic fracturing fluid chemicals a secret. Benzene, sodium hydroxide, ethylene glycol, hydrochloric acid, glutaraldehyde, acetaldehyde, polyacrylamide, and hundreds more. Not to worry.
Drilling companies always say their secret chemicals are safe. But keeping it secret makes it impossible for anyone else to check. That is why the Legislature mandated release of that information in the original legislation.
Halliburton, the giant company that pushed the state DEP and some state senators to insert this secrecy amendment, contends that specific formulations of certain fracking fluids are closely guarded corporate secrets. Human beings living on the land in West Virginia might contend that clean water is a closely guarded human right.
But the "Dirty Secrets" amendment, now leaving the state Senate and heading for the House of Delegates as part of SB243, guts the original disclosure provisions, leaving land owners in the dark and potentially endangering first responders, doctors and hospital staff, not to mention injured workers.
Public knowledge of the chemicals can help landowners near gas drilling projects know what types of pollution to test for in their groundwater. Such testing targeted for certain chemicals can be done before or while drilling occurs and can help to establish the well water, at that point, is not polluted by those chemicals. Incidentally, we're talking about 25,000 gallons of chemicals per gas well!
The Halliburton loophole -- oops, sorry, the "amendment" -- says the driller may designate the identity of a chemical as a trade secret, not to be shared with the DEP except in the case of a DEP investigation or a medical emergency. How might that emergency play out?