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Millions of Acres of Public Lands at Risk from Fracking

Energy

SkyTruth

By David Manthos

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is currently considering regulations and guidelines for unconventional oil and gas development on millions of acres of public land, and SkyTruth believes that public disclosure must be an integral part of these new rules. The BLM has already indicated that they are strongly considering FracFocus.org as the platform for disclosure, however, there are a number of transparency issues which are not currently addressed by the industry-funded website.

The Jonah Field in Sublette County, WY is partly managed by the BLM and has seen heavy development in recent years, based on mineral leases from the 1970's. Millions more acres are under consideration for development, requiring strong, effective management with accurate and accessible disclosure. Photo Credit: Bruce Gordon, EcoFlight

The BLM is a federal agency responsible for more than 750 million acres of subsurface mineral rights, including an estimated 57.2 million acres of "split estate" properties; that is, the surface is privately owned, but the minerals belong to someone else. In this case, the deed holder is the U.S. government, and the guidelines for fracking on these lands will have significant impact on thousands of citizens and will likely set the national standard for disclosure and transparency.

In November, we released a unique database containing more than 27,000 fracking chemical reports from FracFocus, an action that would have been unnecessary in a truly transparent and accessible system. In the interest of transparency, public health and legal protection of property and resources, we advise the BLM to include the following functions in any final ruling on disclosure:

  • Make Bulk Raw Data Download Available

  • Lift Intellectual Property Restrictions

  • Require "Official" Reference Copy for Reports

  • Require a Document Publish Date

  • Require Document Change Management

Make Bulk Raw Data Download Available:

Issue:

In order to perform any aggregate analysis operation, currently a member of the public must go to great lengths to extract data from individual PDF files in order to compile them into a spreadsheet or database. We have demonstrated how this would be done with our Fracking Chemical Database.

This is necessary for tasks like the following:

The current publication mechanism presents a substantial up-front barrier to anyone seeking to use FracFocus data for research or regulatory purposes.

Recommendation:

  • Minimum—Publish the entire collection in a simple standard text format (like CSV) that can be imported directly into a spreadsheet or database. 

  • Better—Provide a way to bulk download all the disclosure data in a search result set (as raw data, not PDFs) 

  • Best—Consider automatically re-publishing fracfocus.org disclosure content to data.gov or similar Open Data Initiative publication portal

Lift Intellectual Property Restrictions:

Issue: 

Intellectual Property (IP) /Copyright Statement on the FracFocus website is unreasonably restrictive.

Recommendation: 

Remove the IP restriction entirely for all the disclosure data. Make an explicit statement that the data can be freely shared and used for any purpose.

Require "Official" Reference Copy for Reports:

Issue: 

There is no way to link directly to an individual disclosure document published on fracfocus.org. This is problematic for anyone reporting on the content of a disclosure because in order to reference the original document, they must re-publish a copy of it.

Recommendation: 

Add a mechanism to provide a permanent link to each disclosure document based on a unique document ID number. This becomes the official reference copy of the document in case there is any question about the accuracy of data re-published by a third party.

Require a Document Publish Date:

Issue:

Currently there is no way to tell when a disclosure was first published, so there is no way to verify after the fact whether the disclosure was made in the required time window.

Recommendation: 

Include a "published" date with each disclosure record.

Require Document Change Management:

Issue:

We have observed documents that had their content altered after publication, so that the first edition of the document is no longer available and the new edition bears no indication that a previous edition was published. 

Recommendation: 

Add a document change history and/or edit tracking to the document record, and assign a new unique document ID to the revised document so that the earlier revision is still accessible.

Summary:

Millions of acres held in the common trust of the American people are under consideration for an extractive process with a very large footprint and potentially significant impacts on air, land and water. It is critical to the oversight and regulation of this process that the BLM require a disclosure and transparency system that is complete, accessible to all, and enforceable. As we have written before, FracFocus does not provide this transparency and access in its current configuration. Decisions about disclosure should either incorporate changes to the FracFocus disclosure platform or utilize another system that accommodates the aforementioned needs.

Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.

——–

Click here to sign a petition to tell the Bureau of Land Management to issue strong rules for federal fracking leases on public lands.

 

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