ConocoPhillips chemical data falls short: watchdog

Environmentalists calling for full disclosure of the chemicals used in fracking are not impressed by the information ConocoPhillips recently released.

ConocoPhillips says it has revealed every chemical it plans to pump into two wells it will drill in the Sahtu region of the Northwest Territories this winter. It will be the first time horizontal drilling and fracking has been done in the Canadian North.

But that doesn’t impress one local watchdog, who says the company could be hiding dangerous chemicals under general terms.

“They say right off the top they are maintaining trade secrets, so what comfort does that give you that everything is being disclosed?” says Lois Little, the co-chair of the Council of Canadians’ Northwest Territories chapter. The Council of Canadians has been advocating for full disclosure of all chemicals used in fracking fluids.

Some oil companies have refused to release the chemical composition of some of the fluids they use, saying that to  do so would be giving out the secret recipes used to make the fluids. 

ConocoPhillips' report to the Sahtu Land and Water Board includes a disclaimer that reads: "Where the specific identity of a chemical ingredient is considered a trade secret, a general identification... will be used." 

But ConocoPhillips says it's not using any chemicals protected by trade secrets.

Eric Hanson is supervisor of operations for the Central Mackenzie Valley.

“ConocoPhillips is fully disclosing all chemicals and chemical concentrations to the Sahtu Land and Water Board.”

According to the information the company released earlier this month, the fracking fluid will be 87 per cent water, but the remainder is a brew of sand and chemicals, most of them toxic.

Near the top of the list of harmful chemicals is hydrochloric acid. Five thousand litres of it will be pumped down the well during each frack. ConocoPhillips plans to frack each well up to ten times this winter.

The chemicals will be released into the ground 1,800 metres below the water table.

The company says multiple layers of steel casing will be in place to prevent it from coming into contact with groundwater, which is typically held within the first hundred metres below the surface.

Hanson does say that the list of chemicals could change, depending on what the company encounters while drilling.

“There is a small possibility of that,” Hanson says. “If that is the case, before we actually use the chemical we would have to submit to the Sahtu Land and Water Board at that time. When we finish our completions, we will also be reporting to the Sahtu Land and Water board the chemicals and the amounts.”