There are “serious deficiencies” in the disclosure practices of FracFocus.org, a widely used website that allows companies to voluntarily disclose the chemicals they use in the process of natural gas drilling known as hydraulic fracturing, according to a study by the Harvard Environmental Law Program’s Policy Initiative.
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, titled Legal Fractures in Chemical Disclosure Laws, found that the dependence on FracFocus as a regulatory compliance tool is either “misplaced or premature.”
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves injecting a large volume of fluid, which is 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, Harvard says.
FracFocus was created two years ago this April in response to public concerns about the chemicals used in the fracking 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, Harvard says.
Among the numerous areas of public disclosure deficiencies from relying on FracFocus are:
- A lack of transparency about when disclosures are filed, allowing for late disclosures without penalties;
- An “impenetrable interface” that prevents users from accessing more than one disclosure form at a time, thereby virtually eliminating any real search functionality;
- A lack of state-specific disclosure forms, leaving it to companies to determine how to account for individual state reporting requirements;
- No review of disclosures by FracFocus and rare pass-through of disclosure filings to states – a review found that 29 percent of the chemical identification numbers reported at Texas wells in July 2012 did not exist; and,
- An overly broad trade secret regime giving companies sole discretion to determine when to assert trade secrets.
These deficiencies are undermining some otherwise tough state disclosure requirements, according to Kate Konschnik, policy director of the Harvard Environmental Law Program. The report concludes that relying on FracFocus as a de facto regulatory practice is premature and does not serve the interests of the public.