Voluntary Fracking Disclosure Database Gets 'F' from Harvard Study

April 24, 2013

We told you so. Voluntary disclosure by fracking drillers of the chemicals they pump into underground formations that may impact people's drinking water wells is not good enough — especially with mile-wide exemptions for "trade secrets."

But now a Harvard study says it: the FracFocus registry designed and operated by the drilling industry (and its close friends) fails to meet the public's rightful need for complete disclosure and accountability.

Today's technology can release huge amounts of previously unrecoverable gas and oil. Well bores are drilled horizontally into hydrocarbon-bearing shale formations, and then a cocktail of fluids are pumped into the well under tremendous hydraulic pressure, fracturing the rock. When wells are drilled and sealed properly, drinking water aquifers above the fracking zone may be unharmed. But lack of effective regulations, inadequate enforcement, and frequent blackouts on what chemicals are used leave at risk the health and property of people nearby.

The study, released April 23, 2013, by Harvard Law School's Environmental Law Program, concludes that the industry's FracFocus database "fails as a regulatory compliance tool" because it is incomplete and opaque. The study's authors say FracFocus hides the identity of chemicals used and lists chemicals that do not exist. The industry, with support from many states, has put forth the voluntary FracFocus system as a solution to public concerns even as it has lobbied against legal requirements that fracking fluid ingredients and records be publicly disclosed.