This October, oilfield company Baker Hughes made a surprising announcement that the company would begin disclosing the contents of its frac fluid. Oilfield companies like Baker Hughes, Halliburton, and Schlumberger provide drilling and well completion support—including the creation of toxic frac fluid—to oil and gas companies. Last week, the company announced that they will merge with multinational giant, Haliburton – the very company after whom an infamous Safe Drinking Water Act exemption is named.
This 2005 exemption in the Safe Drinking Water Act allows oilfield companies to claim the contents of their frac fluid as “trade secrets” and are therefore exempt from disclosure. This exemption is now well known as the Halliburton Loophole. Because of these trade secret protections, it is difficult to know what pollutants to test for, making it harder to identify air and water contamination near fracking operations and identify its specific source.
Halliburton and Baker Hughes’ $34.6 billion merger would consolidate the second- and third-largest oilfield services companies in the industry, which are frequent rivals in both services offered and the geographic regions in which they operate. A Reuters analysis predicts that the combined firms would hold a whopping fifty-four percent market share of completion products and services, comprising thirty-nine percent of the market share of fracking services.
Of course, a merger of this scale is not unheard of in the oil and gas industry. In 1999, Exxon and Mobil’s megamerger reunited two of the most powerful facets of Rockefeller’s original behemoth, Standard Oil Company (Standard Oil of New Jersey and Standard Oil of New York, respectively), almost a century after they were broken apart for violating a law designed to protect competition. This is just the latest in a long line of oil industry megamergers, which have allowed the oil and gas industry to have undue influence over our elected officials.
There’s no indication that this megamerger would lead to anything more than a jumbo-sized serving of Halliburton’s business as usual.
It is not clear whether the merger would result in Halliburton adopting Baker Hughes’ rare attempt at transparency in the industry. However, Haliburton’s rocky history with transparency could give us a clue. In just two instances, the company was found guilty of destroying evidence relating to its complicity in the Deepwater Horizon disaster and won billion-dollar “sweetheart” contracts during the war in Iraq while its former CEO was Vice President.
Now that the Department of the Interior proposed rules requiring disclosure of some chemicals used in frac fluid on federal land, Halliburton is on the offensive. The company has lobbied the White House twice in one month in attempts to chip away at those precautions.
Now that two of the largest oilfield services giants will become one, their influence will be greater than ever. In order to prevent them from freely fracking our public federal lands for profit, we need a Member of Congress to step up and introduce a bill to ban fracking on public land.