It isn’t perfect, but this month the industry-backed FracFocus website — where companies disclose information about hydraulic fracturing operations — got easier to search.
The site already allowed people to use a mapping system to find well-by-well information about the chemicals used.
The Ground Water Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, which maintain the website, have rolled out updates that allow users to search by date ranges, chemical names or chemical abstract numbers, the unique numerical identifier for a chemical.
“You can ask how many wells did Chevron fracture in some county in Texas between April 17 and May 6, and that will come up,” said Mike Paque, executive director of the Ground Water Protection Council. “If you type in the name of a chemical, it will show you wells where that chemical was used.”
Hydraulic fracturing uses water, sand and chemicals pumped at high pressure to break open dense rock such as shale and release trapped oil and gas.
But the FracFocus database as a whole still isn’t available to the public, so information — such as the total amount of water or chemicals used by fracking operations in a particular state or region — can’t be aggregated. And the information still is available only in a pdf format.
“It’s built for an individual landowner, so the person concerned about their private water well had a place to go so they could get information on the well down the road,” Paque said. “It’s one step at a time.”
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State regulators soon will be able to access the database for their state if they want.
Paque said no state agencies have requested the information yet, but said he understands that Colorado plans to do so.
Texas has required operators to disclose the composition of fluids used in hydraulic fracturing on FracFocus since Feb. 1, 2012, but the law allows them to withhold the identity and amount of the chemicals as a trade secret.
Of 12,410 instances of hydraulic fracturing in Texas between April 2011 and early December 2012, companies used terms such as “proprietary, ” “secret” or “confidential” 10,120 times while reporting data on the FracFocus.org website, according to data collected through early December by the Houston-based Pivot Upstream Group and analyzed by the San Antonio Express-News.
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In the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas, the trade secret exemption was used 2,297 times in 3,100 fracturing events.
More than 47,000 U.S. oil and gas wells are registered on FracFocus, and more than 400 companies use the site, but it has its critics.
The Harvard Environmental Law Program’s Policy Initiative cited a lack of transparency about when disclosures are filed, allowing companies to disclose late without penalties, as well as an overly broad standard that gives companies sole discretion to determine when to assert trade secrets.
Express-News and Houston Chronicle archives contributed to this report.