FracFocus report, citing public concern, advocates more openness (March 2014)

Task force recommends reducing trade secret wriggle room for chemical disclosure.

The US Secretary of Energy’s task force has issued its report on FracFocus 2.0, a public registry for the disclosure of the chemical constituents of frac fluids. The review was kicked off last year to assess improvements in shale gas production, best practices and disclosure with the objective of reducing the environmental impact of unconventional shale gas and production.

A key finding of the review is that some 84% of the wells registered with FracFocus invoked the ‘trade secret’ exemption for at least one chemical. The reviewers concluded that the data ‘does not suggest the level of transparency and disclosure urged by the task force. [...] More can be done.’ The goal is for ‘very few’ trade secret exemption claims from disclosure. The public is clearly concerned about the nature of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing and it is in the industry’s interests to meet this concern.

On the plus side, the upgrading of the old FracFocus registry to a ‘risk-based data management system’ is a step in the right direction. The task force recommends that DOE fund FracFocus to enhance the website, suggesting improvements such as improved public search, improved accessibility for data scrapers batch downloads of PDFs. A more radical suggestion is that the whole database should be downloadable in ‘raw, machine-readable form.’

The authors believe that such improvements could be realized ‘at modest additional cost’ and would enhance FracFocus’ position as a valued source of publicly disclosed data with a ‘significant degree of uniformity.’ Download the task force’s report.

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