Share This Page

Drillers to submit electronic records on fracking chemicals to Pa. DEP

| Sunday, June 28, 2015, 9:00 p.m.
Guy Wathen | Trib Total Media
Trucks line up in front of water tanks on a gas well site in Donegal, Washington County.

Pennsylvania will require shale gas companies to disclose electronically the chemicals they use in hydraulic fracturing in a new state-run database by next summer.

Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Quigley said the department will end its partnership with FracFocus, an independent online catalog of fracking records, and develop what he considers a more comprehensive and user-friendly online database.

“Our goal is to have a reporting tool that will provide ... much more downloadable and searchable information than FracFocus,” Quigley said.

The state will require operators to submit fracturing records electronically by March 2016. The database will start around June 2016, he said.

“We're not quite there yet, but we're well down the path,” Quigley said.

He plans to eventually integrate the records into a mapping system. Computer users would be able to click on a dot on a map and see all of the information for that well, including fracking chemicals used, inspection records and production reports submitted to DEP, Quigley said.

“It's going to be a comprehensive data set on oil and gas data in Pennsylvania,” he said.

Several Marcellus shale drillers, including Range Resources and Chesapeake Energy, began disclosing chemicals before the state required it in 2012. The North Fayette-based Marcellus Shale Coalition said the law is comprehensive enough.

“Our organization, which was a very early advocate of FracFocus participation, is committed to common-sense disclosure practices,” said spokeswoman Erica Clayton Wright.

The industry has gotten better at demystifying the process of fracking and drilling for the public, but broader disclosure is welcome, said Davitt Woodwell, president of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council. There should be more disclosure about all materials and liquids used on a well pad, along with those pumped underground, he said.

“There's a chance to understand that whole process better,” Woodwell said. “... For us, it's not just the fracking that's an issue.”

Pennsylvania is one of 15 states, including Ohio and West Virginia, that use FracFocus to catalog fracking records. Ground Water Protection Council, a nonprofit association of state agencies based in Oklahoma City, started running the database in 2010.

The DEP studied FracFocus' effectiveness last year and decided it did not allow users to download data sets and search for specific information easily, Quigley said.

“We think we can do even better,” he said.

FracFocus reports include a list of each chemical added; trade names, including descriptions of what they're used for in fracking the well; the concentration; and pressure applied in the well. State officials have access to all the data and determine what is required. Companies can designate parts of the records they say are confidential trade secrets, and the state will shield them from public disclosure in Pennsylvania.

DEP's database will be based on a disclosure form that separates the list of chemicals and trade names, which the department hopes will encourage drillers to disclose more. FracFocus is initiating a similar form when it updates its site this fall.

“We're just going to try to make the forms easier for companies who are trying to do it,” said Dan Yates, assistant executive director for the Ground Water Protection Council. “We're not forcing anyone to do it, but we're creating the option.”

What constitutes a trade secret remains a point of contention between drillers who seek to protect billions in technology investments and maintain a competitive edge, and environmental advocates who say the public's health depends on knowing every chemical used.

Pennsylvania's trade secret parameters will not change with the database unless legislators change the law, Quigley said. FracFocus does not enforce state deadlines nor check the records that companies submit, but DEP would, Quigley said.

Once records are submitted electronically, he said, the department can determine which companies have not filed and pursue them.

“We would take proper enforcement action, up to and including fines,” he said.

Katelyn Ferral is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-5627 or kferral@tribweb.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.