Texas royalty owners should get to know the website, FracFocus. This website provides a list of chemicals and other ingredients in fluids used by oil and gas well operators for hydraulic fracturing of wells both in Texas and across the country. The intent of the website is to allow the public to access this information and to provide objective and accurate data about hydraulic fracturing. FracFocus is managed by the Ground Water Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission.
Twelve states currently require operators to report their data on FracFocus and eight more states are about to require reporting. The website currently has more than 45,000 records from more than 400 companies.
A new version of the website went online on June 1, 2013 that promises to be even easier to use according to witnesses who testified before the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee during their first natural gas forum. Some of the changes in the new version of the website include the display of data in a format that is easier to aggregate and customize. In addition, the new website will allow a search by the name of a chemical, using the Chemical Abstracts Service number, and a date range.
Environmental groups admitted that the changes to FracFocus were positive. Mark Brownstein from the Environmental Defense Fund said: “(t)he improvements that are about to be made to FracFocus will be a significant help to states. Searchability of information, in conjunction with these risk management systems, can improve regulatory results.” But environmental groups also complained that without a way to verify the data, FracFocus is still not ideal.
Oil and gas companies told the Committee that they have no problem with audits to verify their FracFocus’s data. Charles Davidson, the CEO of Noble Energy Inc., and Jack Williams, President of XTO Energy Inc., both said audits were a good idea, and Mr. Davidson applauded the work that FracFocus has done in keeping the public informed of what is going on with fracing wells, and for making the newest version of the website more user friendly.
Public Disclosure always has to be balanced with the need to keep trade secrets and proprietary information private. For example, a Halliburton executive commented that they have the only frac fluid composed entirely from food material, and if they were forced to make their ingredients public, they would lose all the money they invested in researching, creating and developing their frac fluid. It is the potential for profit that drives the research and experimentation into more environmentally-friendly ways to extract oil and gas, after all. (Actually, many fracing fluids are made of substances like guar gum that are common in foods). Some companies were already thinking ahead, such as Houston based Baker Hughes Inc., which designed its disclosure system to comply with the rules but protect proprietary information.
More new developments can be expected from the organizations that sponsor FracFocus. The groups are working on a Risk Data Management System that is designed to work with 23 industry regulatory programs and eventually to link up with FracFocus. The Risk Data Management System will have a water life-cycle tracker, a component to manage air and water sampling, a feature for iPad and smart phone field inspections, and an oil and gas data gateway to the Energy Information Administration. Both the Ground Water Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission say they are interested in continuous innovation of tools for the public, and indicate that they will continue to review emerging technologies and work with NGOs and universities.
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