Federal Energy Advisor Board (SEAB) Recommends Full Disclosure of Fracking Fluids

by Duane Nichols on March 29, 2014

Frack Fluids in the Field

DOE advisers recommend full disclosure with ‘few, if any’ exemptions for fracking fluid

From an Article of Katherine Ling, E&E Reporter, March 25, 2014

There should be very few trade secret exemptions to full public disclosure for companies participating in a hydraulic fracturing chemicals registry, according to a report approved today by leading energy experts who advise the secretary of Energy.

The Secretary of Energy Advisory Board (SEAB) voted to support the recommendations of a task force report on the next steps for FracFocus, a chemical registry website created based on a previous SEAB task force recommendation in 2011.

The task force’s recommendations included “full disclosure of all known constituents added to fracturing fluid with few, if any exceptions”; a defined process for determining and objecting to the trade secret exemption; an outside audit to verify the disclosure system; a stable funding source for the program; and improved data entry, storage and retention so that system is more user-friendly for industry, communities and regulators (E&ENews PM, March 5).

John Deutch, the task force chairman, said at the meeting at Energy Department headquarters in Washington, D.C., that all 10 members of the task force favored full disclosure for fracking, noting “this is not a minor remark to have members of this task force to go from deep light blue to heavily dark red in terms of review.”

The task force includes Ram Shenoy, chief technology officer of ConocoPhillips Co.; Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council; Stephen Holditch, professor of petroleum engineering at Texas A&M; Daniel Yergin, vice chairman of IHS and founder of IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates; and Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, who is a nonboard member of the team. The task force was created after a request from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the former chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

FracFocus has been upheld by the industry as the answer to calls for drilling transparency, and it has been the basis of much of the fracking fluid disclosure requirements currently adopted in more than 20 states with more than half requiring companies to report on FracFocus. It is also being proposed as the foundation for the Obama administration’s disclosure requirements for fracking on federal lands.

Environmentalists and other stakeholders have criticized the website for being too opaque, however, because of the number of trade secret exemptions allowed.

Deutch emphasized that companies’ intellectual property would not be compromised if there were a “systems approach” to reporting, where chemicals were listed but “additive names and product names” or how they are used were not disclosed. “My favorite example is Julia Child,” Deutch explained. “If you know what Julia Child bought at the supermarket, you don’t really know just what Julia Child is making” in the kitchen.

He also said since FracFocus 2.0 began last summer, about 84 percent of the almost 63,000 wells registered have invoked a trade secret for at least one chemical but a random sample of company internal records do not match these same incidences of use of this same “secret” chemical. These discrepancies should be examined and may shed light on overuse of the trade secret exemption, Deutch said.

“It is a balance,” Deutch said, adding he does not consider the trade secret issue a “trivial matter.” But the importance of public confidence and the benefits of answering the public’s concerns about the nature of the chemicals used in fracking outweigh the possible intellectual property costs to the companies, he said. Or, as the report said: “The public is clearly concerned about the nature of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. It is much to industry’s advantage to meet this concern.”

The report also recommends that a company disclose an analysis or the source for 90 percent of the fracking fluid that is “water,” which was previously fresh water but is increasingly recycled fracking fluid. The report will be sent to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz as recommendations supported by SEAB, but SEAB’s duties are solely advisory in nature.

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