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Harvard study takes issue with FracFocus disclosure practices

By Bob Downing Published: April 24, 2013

Press release from From Harvard Law School:




Reliance on FracFocus as a Regulatory Compliance Tool Is Misplaced or Premature


April 23, 2013 – A new study by the Harvard Environmental Law Program’s Policy Initiative reveals serious deficiencies in the disclosure practices of FracFocus, a widely-used website that allows companies to voluntarily disclose the hydraulic fracturing chemicals they use in the process of natural gas drilling known as “fracking.”


Currently, 18 states require some amount of fracturing chemicals disclosure. Of those, 11 direct or allow companies to report chemical use on FracFocus. The report found that the dependence on FracFocus as a regulatory compliance tool is misplaced or premature.


The report, titled “Legal Fractures in Chemical Disclosure Laws,” details numerous areas of public disclosure deficiencies from relying on FracFocus. These include:

  • <!--[if !supportLists]--><!--[endif]-->A lack of transparency about when disclosures are filed, allowing for late disclosures without penalties;
  • <!--[if !supportLists]--><!--[endif]-->An impenetrable interface that prevents users from accessing more than one disclosure form (PDF) at a time, thereby virtually eliminating any real search functionality;
  • <!--[if !supportLists]--><!--[endif]-->A lack of state-specific disclosure forms, leaving it to companies to determine how to account for individual state reporting requirements;
  • <!--[if !supportLists]--><!--[endif]-->No review of disclosures by FracFocus and rare pass-through of disclosure filings to states (a review found that 29% of the chemical identification numbers (CAS) reported at Texas wells in July 2012 did not exist); and,
  • <!--[if !supportLists]--><!--[endif]-->An overly broad trade secret regime giving companies sole discretion to determine when to assert trade secrets.


“In many instances, states have written tough disclosure requirements, backed by robust public information laws,” said Kate Konschnik, Policy Director of the Harvard Environmental Law Program. “However, when those same states direct companies to report to FracFocus, they give up a lot of oversight authority. Meanwhile, the public’s ability to seek additional information or challenge trade secret claims is lost when an agency is not in possession of the disclosures.”


As its name suggests, hydraulic fracturing involves injecting a large volume of fluid (usually water-based) into a well at high pressure, to fracture rock. The practice is used to extract oil and gas from large shale formations across the United States. Chemicals represent a small fraction of the fracturing fluid; however, given that millions of gallons of fracturing fluid may be injected into each well, the fluid may contain thousands of gallons of chemicals.


FracFocus was created two years ago this April in response to public concerns about the chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process. Industry worked with the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission and the Groundwater Protection Council to create the voluntary registry. However, FracFocus is not a regulatory body, nor does it verify the information submitted by producers and suppliers.


The report concludes that relying on FracFocus as a de facto regulatory practice is premature and does not serve the interests of the public.


“The reliance by states on FracFocus to provide regulatory accountability is simply misplaced,” said Konschnik. “Until significant changes are made, FracFocus remains little more than a repository for disclosure forms and lacks the necessary technical capacity and regulatory mandate to effectively provide the sort of oversight demanded by most states.”

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Utica and Marcellus shale web sites

Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management State agency Web site.

ODNR Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management. State drilling permits. List is updated weekly.

ODNR Division of Geological Survey.

Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

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Ohio Farm Bureau.

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Ohio Oil & Gas Energy Education Program.

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Utica Shale, a compilation of Utica shale activities.

Landman Report Card, a site that looks at companies involved in gas and oil leases.FracFocus, a compilation of chemicals used in fracking individual wells as reported voluntarily by some drillers.

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Rig Count Interactive Map by Baker Hughes, an energy services company.

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No Frack Ohio, a Columbus-based grass-roots group.

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Penn State Marcellus Center.

Pipeline, blog from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Marcellus shale drilling.

Allegheny Front, environmental public radio for Western Pennsylvania.