White House Nears Decision Shielding Frack Chem Disclosure

September 11, 2014

People who want drilling companies to disclose the ingredients in the toxic brew injected into underground formations during "fracking" for gas and oil are waiting for a key Obama administration decision.

Disclosure advocates really got their hopes up when the Obama administration proposed rules for fracking on federal lands back in 2012, with President Obama himself seeming to back fracking disclosure in his State of the Union speech. But the original Bureau of Land Management (BLM) fracking rule proposed in 2012 was panned by the drilling industry as the 2012 election neared. The rule was withdrawn and re-proposed in May 2013 — with significantly weaker disclosure. Now, after further comment from industry and environmentalists, BLM has drafted a "final" rule — but that must be approved by the White House Office of Management and Budget, which often serves as a backroom channel for industry to change regulations.

The final product — still undetermined — is likely to be a disappointment to those who had hoped for Obama administration leadership on fracking disclosure.

One observer who has followed fracking disclosure closely is John Amos, a founder of SkyTruth, a nonprofit that applies remote-sensing data to environmental problems. Amos recently published a critique of the likely BLM fracking reg on a Sunlight Foundation blog.

Amos says the fracking rule is likely to violate the Obama administration's own executive order of May 9, 2013 on open data. And in this case, the public's health may be at stake.

The BLM rule relies on a system called FracFocus for disclosure — a system built by the oil and gas industry, and a system he says is not geared toward true public disclosure. Amos criticizes the FracFocus system as faulty in data quality, and says it provides further barriers by copyrighting reports and providing them in formats that are not machine-readable.

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