In a little-noticed Aug 2012 report, Bloomberg News reported that gas and oil energy companies failed to comply with their own voluntary plan to disclose chemicals in their operations — and, further, failed to report on the very existence of half of their wells.
The report analyzed the efficacy of “FracFocus.org” — a voluntary reporting mechanism designed by oil and gas companies amidst growing calls for mandatory disclosure and federal guidelines of the highly controversial technology.
“Energy companies failed to list more than two out of every five fracked wells in eight U.S. states from April 11, 2011, when FracFocus began operating, through the end of last year,” according to the Bloomberg report.
Bloomberg investigators compared corporate oil and gas well records from eight states — Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana, Montana, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming — against disclosures that companies made for those states on FracFocus. More than half of new wells went unreported on FracFocus in each of three states: Texas, Oklahoma, and Montana, according to the report.
Even when wells are disclosed, important gaps were discovered in the reporting of the chemicals used in the process, many of which, such as Benzene and Toluene, are known carcinogens and highly toxic to human health. According to the Bloomberg report:
“Gaps remain on the website even when wells are disclosed. Companies skip naming certain chemicals when they decide that revealing them would give away what they consider trade secrets. Many of the wells that are listed on FracFocus have at least one or two chemicals marked confidential. Others have far more.
“Nine undisclosed chemicals were pumped into Marathon Oil Corp. (MRO)’s Cherry Bilsky well in Gonzales County, Texas, between San Antonio and Houston, according to the website. The company also withheld the amounts of eight other chemicals used in the well. The purpose of one product, identified only as ‘EXP- F1008-10,’ is listed as ‘experimental.’”
In another case, EQT Corp. (EQT), a Pittsburgh-based Oil and Gas company, failed to disclose the chemicals it had used in the controversial Tioga well fracking operations. This was uncovered only after waste fluid from fracked wells leaked into the vicinity of the Rock Run stream, leading to state violations. (Meanwhile, Apache’s website states that “it ‘supports full disclosure” of fracking operations).
Earlier this year Apache Corporation, the huge Houston-based oil and gas conglomerate with operations in Australia, Kenya, Canada, Egypt, Argentina, the UK and the USA, reported to its own shareholders that it disclosed information about “all the company’s U.S. hydraulic fracturing jobs” on FracFocus. The Bloomberg report, however, uncovered that In Texas and Oklahoma, the company reported chemicals it used on only about half its fracked wells.
“FracFocus is just a fig leaf for the industry to be able to say they’re doing something in terms of disclosure,” said U.S. Representative Diana DeGette, a Colorado Democrat.
DeGette’s criticism mirrors increased calls for mandatory, national fracking standards. “We are pushing for strong national safeguards for fracking, and helping empower local communities to restrict or ban dangerous fracking as they so choose. We want to ensure that reckless fracking operations no longer endanger people’s health and well being,” said Francis Beinecke, President of the Natural Resources Defence Council, in a recent blog.
Relying upon the gas industry to report responsibly on its operations voluntarily is called into question by the very organization which operates the reporting mechanism. Mike Nickolaus, a project director for the Groundwater Protection Council, one of two groups operating FrackFocus, confirmed that about half of all wells fracked in the U.S. have been reported through the site.
The other group involved in operating FracFocus, the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, is an association of states that produce gas — which also raises red flags for environmentalists. State governments are increasingly being accused of colluding with the gas industry in order to promote the highly profitable industry, with little public scrutiny and little regard for public health and long-term environmental consequences.
In New York, for example, Governor Cuomo’s administration has now been sued by a major national environmental organization — Environmental Working Group (EWG) — for consulting with gas industry executives prior to issuing guidelines and permits. According to the Times Union (Albany), a Freedom of Information Act request uncovered documents which show that the Cuomo administration “gave natural gas drilling industry representatives access to draft regulations for hydrofracking as early as six weeks before they were made public… giving drilling interests an exclusive opportunity to influence the regulations behind the scene.” (Governor Cuomo has yet to issue his final decision whether or not to allow fracking in parts of NY for the first time).
Meanwhile, FracFocus.org — designed by the oil and gas industry — is the only industry-wide reporting mechanism available to the public. (In 2005, fracking was made exempt from existing environmental regulations by the Bush administration — stripping away disclosure requirements mandated for other industries).
Which means this: where fracked wells are located, and which chemicals are used, are — for the most part — anybody’s guess.
The Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC), among others, are calling for stronger national standards to protect the public from the dangerous consequences of fracking.
Click through to this NRDC fracking action page to find out more.
Don Lieber's writing and research has been published by the United Nations, The Associated Press, The International Campaign to Ban Landmines, The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, E-The Environmental Magazine and others. He contributes regularly to PlanetSave.com.