FracFocus: "....just a fig leaf...."

FracFocus is a website where oil and gas producers can upload data regarding the chemicals used in wells that have been hydraulically fractured ("fracked"). Producers can upload the data voluntarily, but some states that have disclosure laws go further and require producers to upload data. This all sounds like a good thing, and in theory it is. The public needs more information and details about fracking operations. But how does FracFocus work in reality?

In 2011, I blogged about my concerns regarding FracFocus. Now there are three new reports that look at FracFocus in greater depth and found the following:

  • A new NRDC issue brief with detailed analysis of state disclosure laws revealed that the standardized FracFocus disclosure form contains fields for only a very limited subset of the information that state disclosure rules require. 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. By submitting data to FracFocus, a company appears to be complying with state requirements, but it may not be.
  • A new in-depth investigation from Bloomberg found that producers failed to list almost half of the wells they fracked in eight states from April 11, 2011 (when FracFocus began operating) through December, 2011. The article tells the story of a mother in suburban Denver who wanted to find out the chemicals being used in fracking operations near her children's school. State regulators told her to look it up on FracFocus, but the information was not there. As Congresswoman Diana DeGette stated: "FracFocus is just a fig leaf for the industry to be able to say they’re doing something in terms of disclosure."
  • Another report today from EnergyWire found that FracFocus will not release its full database, so the public cannot conduct broad analysis of the information submitted on the website, such as trying to determine how often a certain chemical is used. Since a spreadsheet would not be available, someone would have to open the individual PDF for each of the more than 17,000 wells. According to the report, "oil and gas industry groups such as the Independent Petroleum Association of America oppose making the chemical data available in such spreadsheet format..."