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Obama Administration Approves ALEC Model Bill for Fracking Chemical Fluid Disclosure on Public Lands

Almost two years after FracFocus’ debut, it is important to scrutinize its disastrous performance.

On May 16, the Obama Interior Department announced its long-awaited rules governing hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) on federal lands.

As part of its 171-page document of rules, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), part of the U.S. Dept. of Interior (DOI), revealed it will adopt the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) model bill written by ExxonMobil for fracking chemical fluid disclosure on U.S. public lands.

ALEC is a 98-percent corporate-funded bill mill and “dating service” that brings predominantly Republican state legislators and corporate lobbyists together at meetings to craft and vote on “model bills” behind closed doors. Many of these bills end up snaking their way into statehouses and become law in what Bill Moyers referred to as “The United States of ALEC.”

BLM will utilize an iteration of ALEC’s “Disclosure of Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid Composition Act” – a bill The New York Times revealed was written by ExxonMobil – for chemical fluid disclosure of fracking on public lands and will do so by utilizing’s voluntary online chemical disclosure database.

In a way, it’s all come full circle. As we covered here on DeSmogBlog, the original chemical disclosure standards and the decision to utilize FracFocus’ database came from the Obama Dept. of Energy’s (DOE) industry-stacked Fracking Subcommittee formed in May 2011. DOE gave a $1.5 million grant to FracFocus.

The Texas state legislature soon thereafter adopted the first bill making FracFocusthe fracking chemical disclosure database at the state level in June 2011. Since then, it’s been off to the races, with the Council of State Governments adopting the TX bill as model bill in Aug. 2011, ALEC adopting it as a model bill in Oct. 2011, and the bill becoming state law in Colorado, Pennsylvania and other states.

Both the Illinois and Florida state legislatures have also tried to push through this model, but it died dead in its tracks.

FracFocus has been an anemic and failed effort by the Obama Admin. to alter the George W. Bush Admin. “Halliburton Loophole” standards for fracking chemical disclosure, which allowed the recipe of fracking chemicals to remain a “trade secret.” It’s amounted to nothing more than the same game by a different name, with a Harvard study recentlyFracFocus a “failing grade.”

The FracFocus Facade: “Truck-Sized” Disclosure Loopholes

Almost two years after FracFocus’ debut, it is important to scrutinize its disastrous performance.

“Drilling companies in Texas, the biggest oil-and-natural gas producing state, claimed similar exemptions about 19,000 times this year through August,”explained Bloomberg in a Dec. 2012 investigation. “Trade-secret exemptions block information on more than five ingredients for every well in Texas, undermining the statute’s purpose of informing people about chemicals that are hauled through their communities and injected thousands of feet beneath their homes and farms.”

One representative from Texas – the original FracFocus state – said it allows “truck-sized” loopholes in chemical disclosure. An earlier investigative effort byBloomberg explained just how big these 18-wheelers are.

“Energy companies failed to list more than two out of every five fracked wells in eight U.S. states from April 11, 2011, when FracFocus began operating, through the end of last year,” wrote Bloomberg. “The gaps reveal shortcomings in the voluntary approach to transparency on the site, which has received funding from oil and gas trade groups and $1.5 million from the U.S. Department of Energy.”

This moved U.S. Rep. Diane DeGette, author of the FRAC Act – which would mandate actual fracking chemical disclosure, although it’s never garnered more than a handful of co-sponsors – to say FracFocus offers nothing more than the mirage of transparency.

“FracFocus is just a fig leaf for the industry to be able to say they’re doing something in terms of disclosure,” she said.

“Fig leaf” is a generous way of putting it. After all, FracFocus is merely a PR front for the oil and gas industry.

FracFocus’ domain is registered by Brothers & Company, a public relations firm whose clients include industry lobbying tour de force America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA), Chesapeake Energy, and American Clean Skies Foundation – a front group for Chesapeake Energy.

ALEC Model Bill Gone U.S. Public Lands in BLM Rules

BLM’s rules are a mirror image of the ALEC/ExxonMobil “model bill” for fracking chemical disclosure.

“The rule would require that disclosure of the chemicals used in the fracturing process be provided to the BLM after the fracturing operation is completed,” BLM explains. “This information may be submitted to the BLM through an existing Web site known as, already used by some states for reporting mandatory chemical disclosure of hydraulic fracturing chemicals.”

Paralleling the BLM rules but less specific in what the online registry would be (it ended up becoming FracFocus), the ALEC/ExxonMobil model is a BLM rules clone.

“The {insert relevant state agency} by rule shall require an operator of a well on which a hydraulic fracturing treatment is performed to complete the form posted on the hydraulic fracturing chemical registry Internet website,” the model bill reads.

This shall include both “the total volume of water used in the hydraulic fracturing treatment” and “the total volume of water used in the hydraulic fracturing treatment…as provided by a service company or chemical supplier or by the operator, if the operator provides its own chemical ingredients.”

Obama Admin. “Huddled” with Industry Before Rules Released

On April 12, EnergyWire’s Mike Soraghan revealed that the Obama Admin. “huddled” with Big Oil before releasing BLM’s final rules, watering them down to suit the industry’s taste.

Heather Zichal, deputy assistant to the president for energy and climate change, “met more than 20 times in 2012 with industry groups and company executives lobbying on the proposed rule,” according to Soraghan’s review of White House visitor records. “Among them were the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA), along with BP America Inc., Devon Energy Corp. and Exxon Mobil Corp.”

“The rule really reflects who has had the most access and who is being listened to,”Fran Hunt of the Sierra Club’s “Beyond Gas” campaign told EnergyWire. “They’ve been following the road signs put up by industry.”

Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club, echoed these concerns.

“After reviewing the draft rules, we believe the administration is putting the American public’s health and well-being at risk, while continuing to give polluters a free ride,” Brune stated of BLM’s new fracking rules. “This proposal does not require drillers to disclose all chemicals being used for fracking and continues to allow trade-secret exemptions for the oil and gas industry.”

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