Since 1894, Underwriters Laboratories has given its stamp of approval to consumer products after rigid testing. The “UL” stamp means a product has been thoroughly evaluated, not by government bureaucrats but by independent analysts.
UL arose at a time when electricity was changing the world and concerns over fire safety were paramount. Today the concern over the effects of hydraulic fracturing on water supplies is paramount.
Society has a choice: It can encourage the industry to better regulate itself, as UL does for manufacturers. It can boost state regulation of fracking. Or it can let a federal bureaucracy take over regulation.
Clearly, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would like to take over fracking regulation. State regulators such as the Oklahoma Corporation Commission would like for that not to happen.
Another trend has developed, however, that puts the industry in the driver's seat. This is the UL model applied to oil and gas. FracFocus.org is a voluntary well registry developed by the Ground Water Protection Council and the Oklahoma City-based Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission.
About 130 companies have used the year-old website to log chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing for more than 15,000 wells. An estimated 75 percent of wells drilled in the U.S. can now be found on FracFocus.org.
Although the word “voluntary” is associated with FracFocus, some state regulators are mandating disclosure of chemicals. So far, though, the EPA's involvement in fracking regulation has been limited.
Hydraulic fracturing has been around for decades but came into full flower more recently with intense activity in shale formations. The evidence of contamination caused by fracking is scant, but the anti-fossil fuel lobby remains intent on getting fracking under the EPA's purview — if not banned altogether.
Participation in FracFocus.org shows that the energy industry accepts its responsibilities. Nearly 120 years of experience shows that the UL model works.