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Ohio Utica Shale

FracFocus prepares for Nov. 1 upgrade

By Bob Downing Published: October 19, 2012

From the Energy Wire

 

 

 

FracFocus.org, the hydraulic-fracturing chemical disclosure registry, is preparing for an upgrade.

The data entry site for "FracFocus 2.0," as its creators call it, is expected to "go live" Nov. 1, according to a note to oil and gas drilling companies reporting on the site, obtained by EnergyWire.

"For months you may have been hearing about upgrades happening to FracFocus' data entry site," wrote Mike Nickolaus of the Ground Water Protection Council (GWPC), the Oklahoma City nonprofit group that runs the site. "This email is to announce the launch of that new operator site."

In response to interest from states that are allowing drillers to use the industry-funded, privately run site to satisfy state disclosure requirements, GWPC has been planning an upgrade that will allow people to search disclosures by date, chemical name and chemical identification number.

It's not clear when those public features will debut.

In a July report, the Natural Resources Defense Council criticized the use of FracFocus to satisfy state disclosure requirements. Though many states and drillers are using FracFocus, the report said, the site lacks any way for companies to record much of the information required by some states.

"Because the information provided by FracFocus is so limited, there is not a single state in which disclosures on the site contain all information required by the state rule," NRDC wrote.

Nickolaus' message does not indicate that the new version will address that criticism, and the group didn't respond to a request for comment.

But Nickolaus did tell company officials that information will be stored differently after the upgrade.

"FracFocus 2.0 is becoming a true database online and XML is the means to transfer the data to that database," his message states.

However, database experts said it is far from clear that the public will be able to access the information as a true database.

"I can't see much in there that suggests it will contain good data," said Julian Todd, a programmer who co-founded a British company called ScraperWiki and has "scraped" some of the data from the PDFs and put it in a format downloadable to a spreadsheet.

FracFocus was originally designed as a voluntary disclosure site for drillers amid growing calls for increased public disclosure of fracturing chemicals. It was intended as a way for people who live near wells to look up what was being used when those wells got "fracked."

But since then, many states have made such disclosure mandatory. Many have allowed or required disclosure through the FracFocus registry, which has the effect of putting government-mandated disclosure data in the hands of a private group, GWPC.

Open-government and environmental groups have been disturbed to see FracFocus becoming a substitute for traditional regulatory disclosure. They say the registry limits its usefulness in a way that provides less transparency and accountability than standard government disclosure.

The White House and Interior Department officials are considering incorporating FracFocus into the federal government's plan to require disclosure of fracturing chemicals used on public lands, even though the administration's advisory panel on fracturing faulted the site for not making data easily accessible (Greenwire, Aug. 11, 2011).

Nickolaus' note does not indicate any changes to the practice of omitting some chemicals as "trade secrets." A recent review of FracFocus entries by EnergyWire found that two-thirds of all entries omitted trade secrets (EnergyWire, Sept. 26).

GWPC and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC), the government agency that helps maintain the FracFocus.org registry, have both refused to release the database, which keeps the government-mandated disclosure in private hands. IOGCC said it is not subject to federal or state open records laws.

Two Washington-based industry lobbying groups, the American Petroleum Institute and America's Natural Gas Alliance, pay the website's operational costs, according to an Bloomberg story in August (EnergyWire, Aug. 15).

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Ohio State University Extension.

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