PA DEP Fracking Chemicals Disclosures

unfocusedThe Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced that it is developing several tools to make information on natural gas drilling more accessible to the public. It will include a new fracking chemical disclosure site, a web portal for information on each natural gas well, and opportunities for the public to comment on proposed DEP policies.

ACT 13, signed into law by former Governor Tom Corbett in February 2012, required drillers to report chemicals used to “frack” each well via FracFocus.   One of the many shortfalls of FracFocus was the lack of “searchability”.  ACT 13 stated if FracFocus site was not searchable by January 1, 2013 then DEP is directed to find or create an alternative.

Currently 14 states, including Pennsylvania, require drillers to disclose chemical on FracFocus. More recently US Bureau of Land Management required drillers to use FracFocus for fracking activities on federal land.


PA DEP Commitment

Speaking at the Pennsylvania Environmental Council annual dinner, DEP Secretary John Quigley said the PA fracking disclosure is part of the Wolf administration’s commitment to “collaboration, transparency and integrity.”

States which use FracFocus have been able to obtain the data and search it internally since November 2012, but not the public. Public access to FracFocus was limited to downloading PDF files for each well which makes it a daunting task if someone would want to know how many wells use a particular chemical, or which drillers use what chemicals the most, etc.

Two and half years after the January deadline, FracFocus did upgrade its site in May 2015, creating a method for users to download the data into searchable databases.

Is it user friendly for the general public? Not really.  The “searchable” FracFocus data is not accessible on-line and requires a user to download the data every month.

Per FracFocus:

This download will be updated every month with the latest disclosures available through It will contain a Microsoft SQL Server 2012 database backup of the same public disclosure information available through the FracFocus ‘Find a Well’ search. Also included in the data release is a data dictionary detailing each attribute found in the database.

These backups were created using Microsoft SQL Server 2012. You may download a free copy of SQL Server 2012 Express from the Microsoft website. Instructions for converting the database from Microsoft SQL format to Microsoft access may be found here.


Disclosures submitted using the FracFocus 1.0 format (January, 2011 to May 31, 2013) will contain only header data. Disclosures submitted using the FracFocus 2.0 format (November 2012 to present) will contain both header and chemical data. NOTE: Between November, 2012 and May 31, 2013 disclosures in both 1.0 and 2.0 formats were submitted to the system. After May 31, 2013 only disclosures submitted in the 2.0 format were accepted.

The database contains information exactly as reported to FracFocus, and only the data displayed on the disclosure PDF files. FracFocus does not alter or modify the submitted data in any way.

While the “new improved” FracFocus feature is more helpful for organizations and groups who are familiar with how to use Microsoft SQL it is gobblygook to the general public.


FracFocus vs PA-FracFocus (PAFF)

As the DEP hasn’t released any details or further information as to what the PA version of FracFocus will look like or how it will differ from the currently used FracFocus there are many questions.

Will the PA-FracFocus (PAFF) merely be a regurgitation of FracFocus data in a different format? FracFocus is a collaboration of industry interests with little to no “collaboration” from others outside of the industry.

Two of the most glaring problems with FracFocus are:

  • No verification of accuracy
    • FracFocus does not review the submissions for completeness or accuracy.  Together with the cumbersome “correction” process, the lack of review encourages inadequate reporting by operators. 
  • No standard as to what is a trade secret or not a trade secret chemical
    • There are no standards for determining what is or isn’t a trade secret.   It is left up to the Gas and Oil corporations to decide what is or isn’t a trade secret and this may vary from driller to driller and fossil fuel well to fossil well.

Will there be verification of accuracy with PAFF to maintain the “integrity” of the data?

How transparent will PAFF be? Drillers in Pennsylvania are required to disclose chemicals used, with the exception of those determined by the driller to be a “trade secret”.  Under PAFF, will those trade secret chemicals still be secret?


Medical Disclosures

Under Act 13, Medical Professionals and Emergency personnel are allowed to a list of chemical, including those deemed to be a “Trade Secret” provided they sign a confidentiality agreement, also known as a Medical Gag.

Keeping in mind that Act 13 became law in February 2012, and it is now 3 years later, a system or procedure for requesting information on fracking chemicals, including the ability to obtain the confidentiality agreement should be in place.

By now there should be a phone number, email, web link or similar to enable medical professionals to quickly request the information somewhere.

There isn’t. In fact the confidentiality agreement doesn’t even exist. How does a medical professional or emergency personnel sign a non-existent confidentially agreement?

Will PAFF address this problem so medical and emergency personnel are able to obtain the information they need to treat patients?


What’s in the Fracking Waste?

FracFocus reporting is limited to what goes DOWN the well, what comes UP is another matter.

The waste, both solid and liquid, is considered to be hazardous materials.

The toxic liquid, also known as flowback, is a combination of the fracking chemicals and formation fluids.   Formation fluids are naturally occurring compounds found in the deep shale layers. It may contain arsenic, barium, radium, strontium, manganese, and a number of other hazardous materials.

Workers exposed to the flowback have fallen very ill and medical professionals are unable to treat them.

With the lack of a confidentiality agreement (as required by ACT 13) and lack of disclosure of chemical in the flowback attempts to track down what chemicals they were exposed to have failed.

Will PAFF require disclosure of the chemical makeup of flowback?



waitingWhile the DEP, under the new administration, is attempting to make changes on how gas and oil operations are conducted in Pennsylvania, the public still waits for answers.

For many people, the changes may be too little too late.

How soon will PAFF be operational? We are waiting to find out even a rough estimated time frame.

We are still waiting for Pennsylvania to do a health study about the effects of fossil fuel extraction on people. We are still waiting for a medical confidentiality agreement to be written.

Most of all, we are still waiting for the DEP to do its job and protect the environment instead of the industry.


©2015 by Dory Hippauf





  1. For precisely the “gobblygook” reason cited in the article above, the website and specifically was created as a “one-stop-shop” for fracking chemical disclosures, chemical toxicities, and reverse-geocode earthquakes. One can find several different curated formats of FracFocus’s difficult-to-access data, to wit: comma-separated-value (CSV) files, SQLite database files, and even a PostgreSQL database backup. Coupled with this data are chemical toxicity files, both in CSV format and within the SQLite and PostgreSQL databases. The site also covers the provenance of each of the ancillary (i.e. chemical toxicities and earthquake) files.

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