The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) said it plans to launch by mid-2016 its own database for tracking chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and will stop using the national registry FracFocus.org.
But while operators in the state will be required to use the new, and currently unnamed, system being built by the DEP, they may elect to do dual entry and continue using FracFocus as well. Meanwhile, after enjoying years of expanding support, including from federal regulators, Pennsylvania's decision appears to have caught the Groundwater Protection Council (GWPC), one of the two organizations that run FracFocus, off guard.
"We want to be able to present more information than FracFocus currently collects," DEP spokesman Neil Shader told NGI's Shale Daily on Thursday. "In fact, we actually collect more information than FracFocus does already for our well completion reports. We just want to be able to make all of that available for the public in an easily digestible way.
"I do want to stress that this is not anything against FracFocus. They are a phenomenal web site, they just didn't have all of the things that we wanted to be able to present."
Although the data currently in the FracFocus database doesn't contain all of the information that was first collected by the DEP, Shader said the omitted information has been saved and would be available in the new database. Existing data relevant to Pennsylvania that's contained in the FracFocus database would also not be deleted, he said.
Shader said operators would be required to use the DEP's new database, but they may decide to continue using FracFocus as well.
"They will definitely need to submit to the state," he said. "[But] I think it [could] be dual entry." "We will have our own system. The way I understand it, if the companies are going to disclose to FracFocus the way they still are doing, they will still do that.
"They're not specifically required to use FracFocus itself. There's no law that says they must use FracFocus. However, there is a law [Act 13, the state's omnibus Marcellus Shale law] that says they must submit to an online chemical disclosure database, which is a very general way of saying FracFocus. They're the only player in the game."
FracFocus was launched in 2011 and is jointly run by the GWPC and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission. Last March it won the support of the Department of Interior for reporting by its Bureau of Land Management, significantly boosting the registry's importance (see Shale Daily, March 20; April 6, 2011).
But while regulators in California have been working on their own system (see Shale Daily, June 18, 2014), Pennsylvania's decision appears to have been a surprise.
"We recognize that each state has its own needs and requirements," GWPC spokesman Mike Nickolaus said Thursday. "We were aware that California, when they initially decided to use FracFocus, was intending on moving to another system. Now, that wasn't true for Pennsylvania that we were aware of. This is sort of new to us, in terms of Pennsylvania."
Industry and environmental groups reacted with caution.
"Our organization, which was a very early advocate of FracFocus participation, is committed to common sense disclosure practices," said Erica Clayton Wright, spokesman for the Marcellus Shale Coalition. "It should also not be lost on anyone that Pennsylvania's heightened fracturing disclosure regulations -- which were written with direct input from the Pennsylvania Environmental Council [PEC] -- are among the nation's most progressive."
Davitt Woodwell, CEO of the PEC, told NGI's Shale Daily that the organization "would like to see -- regardless of what the system is -- a greater breadth of data available regarding everything that is used on site [and] goes down hole. The data should be reported in a way that is accessible, transparent and allows you to compare practices across operators, different parts of basins [and] basins to really understand what's happening."