Let’s Talk About Disclosure of Hydraulic Fracturing Chemicals


Ed Ireland posted about disclosure of fracking chemicals today. His post needed some editing and a little help with social math.

On February 1, 2012, the new disclosure rules for oil and gas companies operating in Texas went into effect. They are required to publicly post the contents of the fluid used in hydraulic fracturing except for the ones they are not required to post–the fracking top secret trade secret chemicals.  Many companies have been making voluntary disclosures for months but what you may not know is that they only disclose what they don’t want to hold as the top secret fracking trade secret chemicals. From August 2010 to May 2011, 7 Wyoming fracking companies requested 98 fracking top secret trade secret chemical exemptions. Some companies put the information on a deceptive website called FracFocus.org, where they tinker with listing the volumes of chemicals to make it appear like they are using just a teeny bit.

Do you remember back in the good old days when the oil and gas companies told us the frack chemicals were only 1% of the total frack fluid volume and the other 99% was water and sand? Do you remember when it suddenly changed to .05% for the total chemicals used? Neither do I. But that’s the percent Ed dug up using his way back machine.

FracFocus.org’s data confirms that the composition of hydraulic fracturing fluid is exactly what has been reported for years. The content of frac’ing fluid hasn’t changed from the basic balance of 99.5% water and sand, and 0.5% chemicals. Additionally, the data continues to note that the simple chemicals used in frac’ing are about a half-dozen in number and serve to act as friction reducers, scale and corrosion inhibitors, biocides and surfactants.

FracFocus uses a range of .05% to 2% for the total volume of frack chemicals.

Evaluating the relative volumes of the components of a fracturing fluid reveals the relatively small volume of additives that are present. The additives depicted on the right side of the pie chart represent less than 0.5% of the total fluid volume. Overall the concentration of additives in most slickwater fracturing fluids is a relatively consistent 0.5% to 2% with water making up 98% to 99.5%.

The fracking slight of hand

On FracFocus, you will see the chemicals are listed as a percent by mass. Listing the chemicals that way makes the amount used look teeny tiny and certainly not nearly enough to cause a bunch of healthy cows to drop dead.

Edit to add comment from really smart person:

FracFocus provides frack fluid components on a percent by WEIGHT basis…..not by VOLUME.  so you need to know the specific gravity of each component to find out exactly what the percentage would be by volume.

I don’t know about you, but I understand gallons a lot better than I understand percent of mass so let’s look at a Devon Energy frack job in Denton, Texas.

On June 28, 2011, Devon fracked the Biltmore #12H and used 3,949,680 gallons of water. If we use Ed’s way back percentage–.05%–that would be 197,484 19,748 gallons of chemicals  (200,000 20,000 gallons  rounded up) plus the top secret trade secret chemicals. If we go back to the good old days– 1%–it would be 394,968 39,496 gallons of chemicals plus the top secret trade secret chemicals. If we use the high end of 2%  from FracFocus it would be 789,936 78,993 gallons of chemicals plus the top secret trade secret chemicals.

Edit: As you can see, I made a mistake in my calculations. It was late when I went through this and I forgot to add a zero in after the decimal point. But, this proves my point about FracFocus. People don’t want to go through all the calculations to figure out how much chemicals are being used to frack. And if you don’t want to figure percentages, just try to wrap your head around finding the specific gravity for each chemical and converting it from mass to volume. Most people won’t be able to do that. Just give us what we want to know in a format we can understand: how much damn chemicals are you using?

And another thing: How did this happen?

  1. First industry said the chemicals were 2% of the total volume.
  2. Then they said the chemicals were 1% of the total volume.
  3. Now they say the chemicals are 1/2% of the total volume.

That’s a big difference. I didn’t see any press releases saying: Industry innovates and reduces the amount of chemicals needed for fracking. Did you?

It’s hard for me to visualize what 200,000 20,000 gallons of chemicals looks like. and even harder to visualize 394,986 gallons or 789,936 gallons, but I know I don’t have that much under my kitchen sink.

Do you remember this thing called the BP oil spill that happened in the Gulf of Mexico? Estimates said the spill was dumping 200,000 gallons of oil per day, after day, after day… Edit: So, 10 frack jobs would be one day of the BP spillHow big is 200,000 gallons?

The tank is 23 feet deep and 40 feet wide and contains about 600 animals. That’s a big tank.

So try to think of hydraulic fracturing as someone filling up this tank with chemicals and dumping it near our drinking water day, after day, after day…times 1500 +/-.

Here’s 400,000 gallons.

Here’s 800,000 gallons and Here.

About Sharon Wilson

Sharon Wilson is considered a leading citizen expert on the impacts of shale oil and gas extraction. She is the go-to person whether it’s top EPA officials from D.C., national and international news networks, or residents facing the shock of eminent domain and the devastating environmental effects of natural gas development in their backyards.


  1. David says

    Every time I heard that 99% water and 1% chemicals statement it would make me laugh. When toxicity is measured in parts per billion, 1% would be 10,000,000/BILLION. According to TCEQ 1.4 ppb of Benzene would cause 1 cancer in 100,000 people, I hate to think how many would get cancer with 10,000,000 ppb !!! exposure. This was suppose to make us feel safe?

  2. Anonomous says

    If Big Gas is using the work “properitary” or “trade secret” or “confidential”, etc. they are NOT disclosing what is in the fracking fluid!

  3. Mr. Frack says

    We never said it was FULL disclosure, just ‘disclosure’. We worked very hard and spent lots of money having our way again. We were able to convince our in-pocket politicians like Dennis Bonnen to slip in literally last minute changes to the disclosure bill, because we will have our way.

  4. says

    You know, seriously, how do we really know the composition of the fracking brew for each well? Who is really minding the fracking store? They turn in their paperwork to the Railroad Commission and the Railroad Commission apparently accepts whatever the industry tells them.

    Here’s an example of that. This is the link to the Completion Form G-1 for the Corn Valley A Well 1H near Lake Joe Pool in Grand Prairie, TX. Note that there is a line for an RRC Rep but that signature line is blank. The signature line for the person who conducted the well testing is blank, too:


    This well shows the signature of a Regulatory Compliance Analyst for Chesapeake ~ not the Railroad Commission. Many of the forms we have viewed show this same individual signing off on the completion paperwork for Chesapeake.

    We continue to be bewildered as to why the Railroad Commission isn’t required to have a representative on site to verify what Chesapeake (or any of the shale gas operators) are doing every step of the way.