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EWG’s FracFocus Principles

Friday, March 8, 2013

A growing number of states – Texas, Montana, Colorado and South Dakota, to name a few – are requiring oil and gas drilling companies to disclose the chemicals they use for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, through FracFocus, an online database partially funded by the drilling industry. 

That sounds like a good thing, because one of the many concerns about fracking is that drilling companies use a number of highly toxic chemicals in the fluids they inject under high pressure to crack open underground rock formations and extract trapped gas or oil. The trouble is, Bloomberg, E&E News and the Natural Resources Defense Council have all reported that the data available on FracFocus is woefully incomplete, inaccessible and riddled with “trade secret” claims that make it impossible for the public to assess the risks posed by these chemicals. 

No wonder industry has been pushing to get regulators to accept FracFocus as the go-to repository for information about fracking chemicals under the disclosure requirements being imposed by a growing number of states and agencies. Environmental Working Group strongly supports full disclosure of chemicals used in fracking, but before more states and federal regulators embrace FracFocus, we believe that they must ensure that the database meets the following standards: 

1.  All data published on FracFocus must use uniform terminology. There should be no variation allowed from site to site or state to state in the terms used to describe or characterize well data.

2.  Drillers must be required to submit and disclose all of their well data on FracFocus. Full disclosure must be mandatory and drillers cannot be allowed broad discretion to decide what information is made public. Well data from state agencies also must be submitted to and disclosed on FracFocus, including complete drilling records and any accident reports.

3.  The public must be able to easily search and aggregate all data on FracFocus in spreadsheets, using commonly available computer software. This provision must apply regardless of whether the data pertains to wells in a single state or in multiple states. 

4.  Local, state and federal regulators must be able to use the information on FracFocus for enforcement purposes, and it must be admissible in court.

5.  Information submitted to FracFocus – including initial submissions and requests for updates – must be available to the public through public records act requests. 

6.  To protect public health and the environment, there must be strict and enforceable limits on the ability of drilling companies to claim “proprietary” status for their data in an effort to restrict access to information about chemicals used in fracking fluids. At a minimum, drillers must disclose the name of every specific chemical used in fracking fluids. It is unacceptable for drillers to use trade secret claims to hide the chemicals they are using. 

7.  In the event of an emergency resulting from an acute or chronic illness or injury, health providers must have immediate access to all data submitted to FracFocus, including information protected as trade secrets. The model for requests by health providers must be the hazard communications standard for the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration, 29 C.F.R. § 1910.1200.

Fracking is inherently risky and frequently involves the use of harmful chemicals such as benzene, a known human carcinogen, and ethylbenzene, toluene and xylene, all neurotoxins. FracFocus in its current form leaves far too much leeway for companies to hide important information about dangerous chemicals from the public. Until FracFocus adopts these basic quality standards, regulators simply cannot rely on it to protect public health and the environment. 

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