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Oklahoma Business

The new Oklahoman energy beat is off to a good start

9:44 AM EDT on April 16, 2012

Last March, the Oklahoman announced it was creating a new energy beat “to provide deeper and more insightful coverage of one of the state’s largest industries.”

At the time, we cautiously took the Oklahoman for their word. Maybe the expanded coverage really would lead to less PR fluff and better reporting on the industry that drives and controls our state’s economy.

So far, the results have been pretty good. Just check out this deep and insightful story in Friday’s paper about the first anniversary of FrackFocus.org, an industry created website where companies must disclose the fluids used in fracking:

For those who want the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, Texas’ new hydraulic fracturing disclosure law falls short. The Texas Legislature passed the law in 2011, hoping to allay fears that oil and gas drillers are contaminating groundwater with toxic chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, process. As of Feb. 1, companies must report some of the chemical ingredients in their fracking fluids to a website, FracFocus.org…

“It’s to be deceptive,” Wilson said. “It’s to lead us to believe they are using these minuscule amounts of chemicals.”

Instead, each chemical should be reported in a parts per million or parts per billion format, said Wilma Subra, a Louisiana chemist who helps communities take on industrial polluters. That’s the same standard that regulators and scientists use to evaluate risks to the environment and human health.

Even more important is what’s not disclosed. Think of the mix of fracking fluids—water, sand, and a host of chemicals—as a recipe. Citizens and environmental groups want the whole recipe, each ingredient and its precise amount. But the new law allows frackers to withhold chemical components deemed trade secrets. A review of the 25 most recent disclosures, totaling almost 1,300 ingredients, found that trade secrecy is claimed for about 15 percent of the chemical components reported to FracFocus. That’s a “huge flaw,” Subra said.

Another blind spot is that operators aren’t required to test wastewater they may use instead of freshwater. So-called produced water may contain benzene, heavy metals and volatile organic compounds. The law also allows operators to keep secret the amounts of any chemicals not regulated by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. In one instance, the Observer found formaldehyde listed as an “additional ingredient” with no further explanation.

“The bottom line is we will never be able to assess the risk until we have full public disclosure of all the chemicals used,” Wilson said.

We’re just kidding. That article didn’t appear in the Oklahoman. It’s actually an excerpt from an article about fracking that appeared in the March issue of the Texas Observer. The Oklahoman would never publish something like that. Here's the real article:

Oklahoma City chemical disclosure website FracFocus turns year old

It has been a year since two national organizations based in Oklahoma City unveiled a voluntary registry for oil and natural gas companies to disclose the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. The website, FracFocus.org, drew nearly 150,000 unique visitors over the past 12 months.

By Jay Marks

Many people used to wonder what was being pumped into the ground to produce vast new deposits of oil and natural gas.

Now there is seemingly no need.

About 130 companies have logged the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing of more than 15,000 wells over the past year on FracFocus.org, a voluntary registry developed by the Ground Water Protection Council and Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission.

The site was launched a year ago this week.

The people behind FracFocus are thrilled with how it has been embraced by operators, regulators, government officials and the public.

The website, which has drawn nearly 150,000 unique visitors, includes about 60 pages of information about hydraulic fracturing, why it is used and how it is done.

Officials said the site has become a point of reference for state and federal regulators who field questions about hydraulic fracturing.

“That's what we intended,” said Gerry Baker, associate executive director of the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission. Officials estimate about 75 percent of all wells drilled in the United States are logged on FracFocus, based on scrutiny of a recent Baker Hughes' monthly rig report.

Baker said the goal is to get that number to 100 percent by training companies to use the site by integrating the reports into their operations. He said peer pressure in the industry has augmented the transparency effort, while a growing number of states now are requiring chemical disclosure on the site.

Mike Paque, executive director of the Ground Water Protection Council, said eight states have adopted FracFocus as a reporting standard, while eight more may follow suit.

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission has passed a rule that would require producers to register their chemical use on the site, but it still must be ratified by the Legislature.

Paque said many companies committed to using the FracFocus site before states started making it mandatory.

He said more than 5,000 wells were registered before Montana became the first state to require its use.

Producers gave input

Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake Energy Corp. was the first company to enter data to the new site.

“Chesapeake was an advocate for transparency years before the database was launched, so we naturally were early supporters of this information database,” spokesman Jim Gipson said. “We believe it provides an efficient platform to serve as a universal information reporting system.”

The site was developed after both Oklahoma City-based entities adopted resolutions urging oil and gas companies to disclose the chemicals used in their hydraulic fracturing operations.

Paque said they sought input from local producers Chesapeake, Devon Energy Corp. and SandRidge Energy Inc., among others. Environmental groups were consulted as well.

He said a technical meeting was convened in Oklahoma City to set some parameters for the registry.

The parties decided the registry needed to collect information on the chemicals used and their purpose.

“That's the guts of FracFocus,” Baker said.

He said the site has been tweaked throughout its first year, with plans to add more search fields by this summer.

Bill Whitsitt, Devon's executive vice president for public affairs, said the site is an important resource for anyone interested in the oil and gas industry.

“It's much more than what are in the additives,” he said. “I'm very pleased with it.”

Yeah, what a great, informative and totally fair article! Who cares that the FracFocus.org doesn’t list 15% of the mystery chemicals used in fracking or that it requires a PhD to comprehend or navigate. And don't bother talking to a scientist or environmentalist about the disclosures or practicality of the site. Instead just get quotes from people at Chesapeake and Devon. They have nothing to protect or lose, so you know they'll tell us the whole-hearted truth.

Anyway, I guess it’s good to know that the new Oklahoman energy beat is really just a pulpit for energy companies and their PR departments. I guess we’ll have to turn to Forbes, Rolling State or some other out-of-state news source for local energy news. Or we can just drink the fracking fluid and believe what the Oklahoman tells us. If it tastes like a cold pop I'm all for it.

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