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FracFocus Groups Fire Back at Harvard

One day after a report by Harvard Law School researchers leveled withering criticism against FracFocus, the two organizations that jointly manage the oil and natural gas disclosure registry fired back for what they claim were misrepresentations of the site.

Three Harvard researchers in the Environmental Law Program on Tuesday said FracFocus was inadequate as a regulatory compliance tool, citing the timing of disclosures, the substance of disclosures and nondisclosures (see Shale Daily, April 24). They also said it was difficult to use and that the trade secret provisions provided too much cover for operators.

"We believe the research done by the Harvard team fails to reflect the true capabilities of the FracFocus system and misrepresents the system's relationship to state regulatory programs," representatives of the Ground Water Protection Council (GWPC) and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC) said Wednesday. The researchers were incorrect in their assertions that FracFocus doesn't notify the 11 states that use the registry of the disclosures it receives, or that most states can't determine when the disclosures were actually made, they claimed.

"FracFocus not only notifies states of the submission of disclosures and provides them with lists of such disclosures on a routine basis, it allows states to download the data from the disclosures so that it can be incorporated into the states own data system," the organizations said. They said they were developing a method for the states -- Colorado, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas and Utah -- to load data directly into their state systems.

"The FracFocus website was developed and is managed by the state oil and gas regulatory programs," said GWPC President Stan Belieu. "I am not aware of any state regulatory program that has been contacted by Harvard University to make inquiry of its capabilities. I do not understand how, without direct contact, this study can draw the conclusions it has."

The GWPC and IOGCC disagreed with the researchers' characterization that FracFocus is an inadequate system, or that companies found it difficult to use.

"The whole purpose of utilizing a single format is so the public does not have to navigate multiple formats with different information. This makes it better for the public, not worse," the organizations said. FracFocus is easier for companies to use "because they do not have to enter data in multiple formats. While it is true the FracFocus staff does not review the forms for content, that is the responsibility of the state agencies for whom the forms are submitted. FracFocus is a tool, not a regulatory program. We are not in a position to know and understand the specifics of individual state regulations nor are we charged by law with enforcing them. We merely provide the means by which a state receives the information so that they may review it for regulatory compliance."

The GWPC and IOGCC said the Harvard team made another incorrect statement when they claimed none of the 11 states that use FracFocus have minimum reporting requirements. "The vast majority of states utilizing FracFocus have specifically detailed the reportable elements in their regulations," they said.

The organizations also denied that FracFocus provides too much cover for companies looking to protect trade secrets. "As with all information in a FracFocus disclosure, it is the responsibility of the state regulatory program to review and act upon trade secret claims. FracFocus cannot act on behalf of state regulatory programs as it does not have such authority. Obviously, it is up to each operating company to know and understand individual state laws regarding disclosure. It is also up to each state to enforce compliance with its own laws. Once again, FracFocus is not a regulatory program; it is a tool for collecting the disclosures required by regulatory programs."

The U.S. Department of Interior's Bureau of Land Management has proposed using FracFocus for its reporting needs on federal and tribal lands (see Shale Daily, June 19, 2012).

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