FracFocus registry to be more accessible, Senate committee told

FracFocus, the online registry of chemicals and other hydraulic fracturing ingredients, will become easier to use when its new version goes into operation on June 1, a witness said during the US Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s final natural gas forum.

Data will be submitted as XML instead of PDF documents, making it easier to aggregate and customize, Stan Belieu, deputy director of Nebraska’s Oil and Gas Conservation, said in testimony on behalf of FracFocus’s developers, the Interstate Oil & Gas Compact Commission and the Groundwater Protection Council.

Users also will be able retrieve information by a chemical’s name, its Chemical Abstracts Service number, date range, and other new public search features, Belieu said. FracFocus already has more than 45,000 well records from more than 400 companies, and is required in 12 states with 8 more expected to join, he noted.

IOGCC and GWPC also are working on a Risk Based Data Management System, which will assist 23 oil and gas regulatory programs, Belieu said. It eventually will be integrated with FracFocus, he added.

In addition to its permitting, reporting, and data mining features, RBDMS’s new features will include a water life-cycle tracker, a component to manage air and water sampling, a feature facilitating iPad and smart phone field inspections, and a national oil and gas data gateway to the US Energy Information Administration, he indicated.

“We view this as a continuing project,” Belieu said. “We’re going to look at underground injection control issues, carbon capture and storage, and enhanced oil recovery. We’ll continue to improve FracFocus so it will continue to meet information needs. We’ll continue to look at emerging technologies and work with NGOs and universities.”

Verification necessary

Witnesses from environmental organizations acknowledged the new features would improve FracFocus, but added they would not mean much without ways for landowners and communities to verify the data’s accuracy.

“The improvements that are about to be made to FracFocus will be a significant help to states,” said Mark Brownstein, associate vice-president and chief counsel in the Environmental Defense Foundation’s US Climate and Energy Program.

“Searchability of information, in conjunction with these risk management systems, can improve regulatory results,” he continued. “But the next important step is to provide ways for individuals and communities to use this information.”

Amy Mall, a senior policy analyst in the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Land and Wildlife Program, said, “The problem with FracFocus is that it’s not a government web site with specific requirements and a legitimate process to determine what actually is a trade secret. A recent Harvard study found some companies are claiming trade secrets in one state and disclosing the information in others. It’s only part of a solution.”

Deb Nardone, who directs the Sierra Club’s Beyond Natural Gas Campaign, added, “States need to have the opportunity to verify all data. But the issue is that FracFocus still isn’t a public entity and subject to all the necessary requirements. There’s no assurance it will still be in operation 20 years from now.” Information also needs to become available before a frac operation begins, she added.

Belieu challenged Mall and Nardone’s assertions that FracFocus is privately operated. “States are government,” he observed. “We’re in complete control of this data, and hold those who submit it accountable.”

No problem with audits

Oil and gas industry witnesses said they would not have problems with the information they submitted being audited. “The states own the data their regulations require us to submit,” noted XTO Energy Inc. Pres. Jack Williams. “An audit system would be good.”

Charles Davidson, Noble Energy Inc. chief executive, said, “As a public company, we already rely on audits to verify data we submit. I really applaud what FracFocus has done. A few years ago, we didn’t have a disclosure mechanism to answer questions about what’s being pumped into a well. I also applaud the enhancement which will make it more searchable and accessible.”

Clay Bretches, Anadarko Petroleum Corp.’s vice-president of exploration and production services and minerals, said, “It also makes sense to manage the timing of the submissions to the states. Federal funding also would bolster the organization’s ability to manage the data well.”

Alan Crain, a senior vice-president and chief legal and governance officer at Baker Hughes Inc., said the Houston oil field service and supply company was one of FracFocus’s earliest and strongest supporters.

“We designed an automated disclosure system that allows our customers to comply with any state disclosure rule or make voluntary disclosures in a format that does not jeopardize our and our suppliers’ proprietary information,” he told the committee.

“This process ensures that employees, government, the public and emergency responders all have ready access to important chemical information.”

But it’s essential that companies not be forced to make proprietary information public, according to Marc Edwards, Halliburton Co.’s senior vice-president of completion and production. “Halliburton has the only frac fluid that is sourced entirely from the food industry,” he told the committee. “Without proprietary protection, it would not have invested in its development.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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