FracFocus not Adequate Disclosure for Fracking Chemicals

by Duane Nichols on April 29, 2013 = Hocus Pocus

FracFocus Gets A Failing Grade from Harvard Law School

An Earthworks Article by Alan Septoff, April 25, 2013

Thanks to two great stories by E&E’s Mike Soraghan, we know that the Harvard Law School has evaluated and found government (and the public) shouldn’t rely upon it . . . as a database listing actual fracking chemicals used on specific wells.

In short, Harvard says FracFocus is inadequate for at least three reasons:

  1. It is hard to determine when and if companies make disclosures.
  2. The data contained within FracFocus isn’t verified — it consists of whatever the company reports.
  3. Secrecy claims made by companies aren’t verified — FracFocus allows for unchallenged and extremely broad disclosure exemptions made at the company’s discretion.

In sum, Harvard says that FracFocus allows for disclosure on the fracking company’s terms without much regard for the community’s right to know. And the end product is inconsistent and unreliable.

More cynically (and Harvard doesn’t say this), FracFocus allows companies and states to receive the political benefit of requiring fracking disclosure without actually requiring fracking disclosure in a way that benefits the public or impacted communities.

Additionally, FracFocus makes retrieving the data much more difficult than it needs to be, as SkyTruth demonstrated by scraping the data and putting it into a much more public-friendly tool.

Background on fracking disclosure

Because of  loopholes in federal environmental laws, frackers have been free to inject toxic-containing frack fluid through a community’s water table without disclosing them to the impacted community.

As the shale boom progressed, this ability caused increasing outrage to the point that it looked like meaningful disclosure might be required—perhaps even by the federal government.

In part to head off the possibility of federal involvement, gas development states and industry—working with enviros, including Earthworks—drafted and enacted disclosure requirements. Wyoming was first, followed by Texas.

During this time, industry funded the creation of, which is administered by Ground Water Protection Council. Many states that require fracking disclosure, specifically require it through FracFocus. And the federal government is considering incorporating FracFocus into disclosure for fracking on Bureau of Land Managment lands as well.

State-based disclosure has come up short

As Harvard demonstrates, FracFocus has come up short as a fracking disclosure tool.

Unfortunately, the state interpretation of disclosure regulations is lacking as well. For example, Earthworks and other enviros are now suing Wyoming state government—which started as a trend-setter—for not properly implementing their fracking regulations.

Taken together, the inadequacies of state fracking disclosure implementation and FracFocus serve as a strong argument that disclosure should be required at the federal, not state, level. And were fracking treated like almost every other industry, that would already be the case.

NOTE: Pictured above is Sharon Wilson from Texas who heads up the Earthworks’ Oil and Gas Accountability Project. She says that FracFocus “allows trade secret exemptions.”

Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Dallas Richards May 4, 2013 at 6:07 pm

Shale fracking is a risky and unproven technology posing significant risk of harm to the natural environment and human health. Strikingly, the true extent of this risk is largely unknown, as federal and California state law do not require oil and gas companies to fully disclose the dizzying array of chemicals (including biocides, gellants, foaming agents, anti-foaming agents, corrosion inhibitors, and many others) used in “frack fluids.” A recent study conducted by the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee found that between 2005 and 2009, oil companies had used more than 780 million gallons of frack fluids containing 750 individual chemicals. At least 29 of these chemicals are considered to be carcinogenic, hazardous, or otherwise a risk to human health, such as benzene, methanol, hydrochloric acid, and formaldehyde.


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