'Full Disclosure' of Frack Chemicals Urged by Energy Department Advisors

Photographer: Ty Wright/Bloomberg

Threaded drilling pipes are stacked at a hydraulic fracturing site in Washington Township, Pennsylvania, on Oct. 31, 2013. Close

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Photographer: Ty Wright/Bloomberg

Threaded drilling pipes are stacked at a hydraulic fracturing site in Washington Township, Pennsylvania, on Oct. 31, 2013.

Bloomberg BNA – An Energy Department advisory board recommended “full disclosure of all known constituents” in fluids used for hydraulic fracturing, according to a draft report released March 6.

The “Task Force Report on FracFocus 2.0” from the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board (SEAB) said state and federal regulators should adopt standards for companies making trade secret claims for fracking fluid ingredients and establish a compliance process and challenge mechanism.

The draft report praised the FracFocus website as a good registry for public disclosure of the chemical additives in hydraulic fracturing fluids. “It has accomplished a good deal and shows the capacity to make improvements at modest additional cost,” the report said.

But a large portion of the FracFocus reports on hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells claim at least one trade secret exemption, the report said. It said there should be “few, if any exceptions” to full disclosure.

The report also recommended expanding what is reported beyond the chemical additives in the fluids.

Fracking fluids are mostly water and sand, and the water can have chemical constituents of its own, especially if it's recycled water containing traces of minerals and residues of previously used fracking fluids. Disclosure of the constituents of the water, not just the additives, would be appropriate if the data were available, the report said.

Secrets Protection Suggested

To avoid divulging trade secrets, companies could report additive chemicals separately from the commercial products containing the chemicals, the report said.

“A list of chemicals that includes the contributions from all the constituents added makes it extremely difficult to reverse engineer to determine which chemicals and in what proportions these chemicals are present in a particular additive or product with specific trade name,” the report said.

The report summarized its disclosure recommendations as no trade secret disclaimers unless documented and attested, as done in Wyoming or Arkansas—and the fewer the better; complete lists of chemicals reported by their quantities and Chemical Abstracts Service registry numbers; and complete lists of products reported without linking to the list of chemicals.

Many companies provide such information to the FracFocus website voluntarily. As of Nov. 1, reporting of chemicals on FracFocus was mandatory in 14 states, including Colorado and Texas, according to the report. The Interior Department is considering whether to make reporting on the site mandatory for companies drilling on federal lands.

States often require full disclosure to regulators, firefighters, medical personnel or other “first responders” when requested, while the public gets a lesser degree of disclosure, with trade secrets withheld.

Upgraded Website Examined

The utility of FracFocus has been much discussed, with critics typically saying it fails to disclose enough information. It was improved in June to a “2.0” version to make it easier to use.

In November, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz charged the SEAB to establish a task force to review FracFocus 2.0. The Energy Department doesn't have regulatory authority over oil and gas drilling, but its recommendations can carry weight with other federal regulators and states.

The new report serves as a follow-up to a 2011 SEAB report on ways to increase environmental protection and safety in shale gas drilling and production .

The task force report said its recommendations were endorsed by the SEAB. The report was labeled a final draft for public comment, but the SEAB gave no indication of when a public announcement would be coming and a comment mechanism would be established. The report was dated Feb. 24.

The report contained a variety of proposals for technical improvements in the website that would enhance its functionality for anyone seeking data. The report also recommended procedural or policy improvements.

Data Quality Control Sought

FracFocus should examine the entire data entry workflow and structure, looking for opportunities to simplify data structure and steps for data entry to reduce the probability of errors, the report said.

FracFocus 2. 0 has introduced basic error checking that alerts users if an entered Chemical Abstracts Service number is in the proper format but not whether the CAS number matches the chemical name or even if the CAS number is in use.

While FracFocus doesn't assert authority to reject operator entries, the automatic validation system should be expanded and improved, the report said.

When FracFocus discovers an error in a company submission, the website operators should inform the company and indicate on the website that the submitted data are in some doubt. Such a notice on the website would inform regulators and the public that there is an issue and serve as an incentive to the company to revise the submission, the report said.

Funding Changes Urged

The Ground Water Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, two organizations formed by state regulators, operate the FracFocus website.

The annual budget for FracFocus, less than $1 million, is covered by an Energy Department grant, occasional contributions from a state and from two oil and gas industry associations. The report by the task force said the importance of FracFocus justifies a stable source of funding.

A combination of Energy Department support and a use fee “will comfortably provide for FracFocus,” the report said. The task force recommended that the Energy Department establish a stable multiyear budget for FracFocus employing one or both of those mechanisms.

The Energy Department may want to make more use of the website itself. The report said discussions are under way between FracFocus and the department's Energy Information Administration to include FracFocus as an element of EIA's contemplated National Oil and Gas Information Gateway.

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