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An Open Letter to FracFocus

FracFocus.org is the preferred chemical disclosure registry for the oil and gas (O&G) industry, and use of your website by the industry is mandated by some states and regulatory agencies. As such, we hope you’ll be responsive to this call by FracTracker, other organizations, and concerned citizens across the country to live up to the standards of accessibility and transparency required by similar data registries.

A Focus on Data Transparency

Recent technological advances in high volume hydraulic fracturing operations have changed the landscape of O&G drilling in the United States.  As residents adjust to the presence of large-scale industrial sites appearing in their communities, the public’s thirst for knowledge about what is going on is both understandable and reasonable. The creation of FracFocus was a critical first step down the pathway to government and industry transparency, allowing for some residents to learn about the chemicals being used in their immediate vicinities.  The journey, however, is not yet complete.

Design Limitations on FracFocus

Query by Date

Even with the recently added search features there is no way to query reports by date. Currently a visitor would be unable to search by the date hydraulic fracturing / stimulation was performed, or when the report itself was submitted. Reports can only be viewed one PDF at a time, which would take someone quite a while to view all 68,000+ well sites in your system.

Aggregate Data Downloads

In October 2013, you informed us that “each registered state regulatory agency has access to the xml files for their state but they are not distributable from FracFocus to the public.” We must ask the reasonable question of “why not?” We understand that setting up a downloadable data system is a time-intensive process, as we manage one ourselves, but the benefits of providing such a service more than compensate for the effort expended. It is no longer possible to aggregate data, either automatically or manually, because of bandwidth limitations that keep users from downloading more than an arbitrarily limited number of reports in a single session. Considering public concern over the composition of frac fluid, as well as the volume and geographic extent of complaints of drinking water complaints to be related to O&G extraction, prudence would suggest making the data as accessible as possible. For example, making the aggregated data available to the public as a machine-readable download would greatly reduce the load on your servers, because users would no longer be forced to download the individual PDF reports. Changes in the way the reports are curated would also improve efficiency and reduce your server load; we would be more than happy to discuss these changes with you.

An Issue of Money?

The basic infrastructure to provide this service via FracFocus.org is already in place. An organization like the Groundwater Protection Council with a website serving some of the world’s wealthiest corporations loses credibility when making claims that “we have no way to meet your needs for the data.”  Withholding data from the public only serves to compound the distrust that many people have with regards to the oil and gas extraction industry.  Additionally, agencies that use FracFocus as a means of satisfying open government requirements are currently being short changed by the lack of access to your aggregated datasets; restricting access to data that is in the public interest is fundamentally at odds with data transparency initiatives, including the President’s 2013 Executive Order on Open Data.

One Small Step for a Company…

Within this discussion is a simple realization:  The Ground Water Protection Council, Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, participating companies and states, and the federal government should recognize that data transparency is not merely a lofty ideal, but an actual obligation to our open society.  Once that realization has been made, the path of least resistance becomes clear:  you, FracFocus, should make all of your aggregate data available to the public, beginning with the easiest step: the statewide datasets that are already being provided to government agencies.

FracTracker operates in the public interest. We – and the thousands of individuals and organizations who use our services and yours – request no less from you. Thank you for addressing these critical matters.

Sincerely,
-The FracTracker Alliance-

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