The fracking industry’s purported willingness to disclose the chemicals it uses at active drilling sites across the U.S. in an industry-maintained online database is coming under question. According to a Bloomberg report this week, that database is riddled with omissions and inaccuracies.
FracFocus.org was created by companies that currently use the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) drilling process to extract natural gas and oil from underground shale formations. Thousands of wells are operating across the U.S., with most centralized in the Mid Atlantic region. A boom in fracking development has created an abundant supply of natural gas reserves but has also drawn the ire of a skeptical public which believes the process is wrought with potential hazards, both to the environment and public health.
The FracFocus.org database was created last April as a means of helping to allay the public fears. It is supposed to be an easily-accessible font of information on active fracking sites around the country but a Bloomberg investigation has revealed that it likely only contains sparse information, at best. One company’s submissions to the database for example, Apache Corp., omits three out of every five wells it operates and whether or not the company is fully disclosing the contents of its drilling fluids is unknown, but seems unlikely. The report indicates every company submitting to the database is just as lax in succumbing to full disclosure.
Fracking companies have taken advantage of lax environmental regulations that created a boom in drilling after 2005. Being able to hide so-called trade secrets means fracking companies are not required to disclose everything that goes into the well. The process employs the use of hundreds of thousands of gallons of fresh water, sand, a drill, and a mix of more than 600 chemicals. Together, these contents are rushed below the suface some two miles via an underground well shaft. Once it hits the intended shale bed, the rock is blasted apart and natural gas or oil deposits are released and supposed to be all rushed back to the surface for collection.
Skeptics of the process believe that fracking causes underground chasms to open that allow the dangerous contents of fracking fluid to escape the intended path. This, environmental advocates believe, has led to widespread contamination of the ground, water, and air surrounding active fracking sites. Homes within a mile of an active fracking well are more likely to realize the hazardous effects of fracking drilling. Some neighbors of wells have been forced to cap their private freshwater wells and find alternate supplies, all while the fracking industry denies that first, the process is dangerous and secondly, that it uses the chemicals or agents believed to be contaminating those wells. For instance, some homes in Pennsylvania can actually light their tap water on fire due to an excessive build-up of methane gas that neighbors of fracking wells believe can be blamed on the energy exploration process.
To avoid potential environmental regulations that would seemingly hinder or almost halt the process altogether, fracking companies have attempted numerous times to fully disclose what exactly goes into each well. In many cases however, that full disclosure is only as full as those companies want the public to believe.
Bloomberg’s investigation revealed that “in eight states, companies told regulators that 18,158 wells were readied for production or were newly producing from April 11, 2011 through Dec. 31, 2011. They disclosed 8,555 of them on FracFocus. If 85 percent of the total wells were fracked, that means 45 percent of the fracks weren’t disclosed on the website.”
Altogether, Bloomberg has determined that of the more than 1,100 companies which may potentially use fracking drilling or have plans to operate wells, just 8 percent of them have contributed to the industry-fed online database.