ProPublica

Journalism in the Public Interest

Cancel

Fracking Chemicals Cited in Congressional Report Stay Underground

A new report by congressional Democrats lists 750 chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, including 14 known or possible carcinogens. Drawn from industry sources, the report provides the most comprehensive listing to date of the chemicals and compounds drillers are injecting underground.

.

(Abrahm Lustgarten/ProPublica)

A report released Saturday confirmed details about what many already knew was happening: gas drillers have injected millions of gallons of fluids containing toxic or carcinogenic chemicals into the ground in recent years. The report, by congressional Democrats, lists 750 chemicals and compounds used by 14 oil and gas service companies from 2005 to 2009 to help extract natural gas from the ground in a process called hydraulic fracturing.

That list includes 29 chemicals that are either known or possible carcinogens or are regulated by the federal government because of other risks to human health. As we reported more than a year ago, most of the fluids now used in hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," are left underground when drilling ends.

The report notes that while the fate of these fluids "is not entirely predictable," in most cases, "the permanent underground injection of chemicals used for hydraulic fracturing is not regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency."

The amount of fluid that remains in a well varies depending on local geology. But in some states, including Texas and Pennsylvania, regulators do not know precisely how much of the fluid returns to the surface for each well. In many cases, particularly in the Marcellus Shale in the Northeast, more than three-quarters of the fluid is left underground.

In 2005, Congress exempted hydraulic fracturing from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act. That law allows the EPA to regulate the injection of hazardous fluids into underground wells, a practice widely used to dispose of drilling wastewater. As we wrote back in 2009:

If another industry proposed injecting chemicals -- or even salt water -- underground for disposal, the EPA would require it to conduct a geological study to make sure the ground could hold those fluids without leaking and to follow construction standards when building the well. In some cases the EPA would also establish a monitoring system to track what happened as the well aged.”

But the oil and gas industry lobbied to protect fracking from such regulation, arguing that most of the fluid remains underground only temporarily. Stephanie Meadows, then a senior policy analyst for the American Petroleum Institute, told us in 2009 that, "Hydraulic fracturing operations are something that are done from 24 hours to a couple of days versus a program where you are injecting products into the ground and they are intended to be sequestered for time into the future."

When they approved the Safe Drinking Water Act exemption, lawmakers believed only about 30 percent of the fluids remained underground. Subsequent reports and interviews with drillers show the amount can reach 80 percent or higher.

The Democrats’ report, which provides the most comprehensive list of the chemicals used to frack natural gas wells, also highlights ongoing gaps in knowledge. It says drillers injected 94 million gallons of fluid -- about 12 percent of the total amount used over the five years -- containing at least one chemical deemed a trade secret.

"In most cases the companies stated that they did not have access to proprietary information about products they purchased 'off the shelf' from chemical suppliers," the report says. "In these cases, the companies are injecting fluids containing chemicals that they themselves cannot identify."

Much is still unknown about what happens to that fluid when it's left inside the well, or whether it threatens drinking water. The industry says that multiple layers of rock protect groundwater from the fluid, but opponents have said water and chemicals might be able to follow natural fissures through the rock. The EPA has recently embarked on a multiyear study to look at this question as well as whether any part of the fracking process poses a threat to drinking water.

A spokesman for the group Energy in Depth, which represents natural gas drillers, said the Democrats' report was unconvincing that fracking represents a real risk to drinking water.

"If the breaking news here is that fracturing fluids contain stuff you would never want to drink, that's not much of a headline at all," said Chris Tucker in an email. "The only way that'd be relevant in a public health context is if those materials were somehow finding their way into potable water supplies underground. Naturally, this report has no ability to show that, precisely because they aren't, don't, and according to regulators all across the country, never have."

Chemicals used in fracturing operations have been found in drinking water, but those chemicals are also present in many other industry practices and have not been directly linked to fracking.

The report is the product of an investigation into hydraulic fracturing by Reps. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., Edward Markey, D-Mass., and Diana DeGette, D-Colo. In January, they released a report showing that the same 14 drilling companies had used more than 32 million gallons of diesel fuel or fluids containing diesel in fracking operations.

If you don’t think it gets in the drinking water just watch this:
http://www.gaslandthemovie.com/.  What the natural gas companies are saying in this case seem to be outright lies.

It is unbelievable what that gas company’s, their lobbyists and their government shills have done here.

There are well documented and heartbreaking reports of the devastating damage caused by fracking. It is poisoning our water and air, killing animals, sickening/killing people, destroying our land and the gas industry keeps denying all of this. The greed is beyond belief. Once the water is destroyed there is no way to fix it. The documentary “Gasland” is excellent.
Here’s a short animated video that explains fracking for those who are brand new to the issue.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wj_7kt51iJc

Amd a longer (six-minute) video that tells the story of a PA couple who fought back against fracking in their town (and won!). We hope it will inspire people to take action in their own communities.  It makes me cry when I watch it.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QeRekFE29Fc&feature=relmfu

And there’s a special tax deduction for these hazardous chemicals (see #2). No wonder the practice is so widely used.

Chemicals used in fracturing operations have been found in drinking water, but those chemicals are also present in many other industry practices and have not been directly linked to fracking.

Which is why the Ohio DEP’s investigation into a damaged wellhead casing in Bainbridge Township found zero evidence of contamination when it compared its groundwater samples to baseline samples taken before drilling began.

Seems kind of relevant to the topic ... I wonder why its always omitted?

Walter A. Lyon

April 20, 2011, 5:12 p.m.

the Safe Drinking Water Act exemption does not exempt fracking and fracking fluids from a whole host of other Federal and state acts. There are
many other laws which can be used to regulate this process which
poisons our waters. What it does take is a group of senior professionals
in fields such as Groundwater Geology, Chemical Engineering, Chemistry,
Toxicology, Geohydrology etc to regulate this industry and to enforce the
laws which do not exempt fracking.

There was a major accident in PA today and much of the contamination is spilling into the river which leads to the Chesapeake BAY. These chemicals are dangerous and yet PA is on full out speed to open up new gas wells. Fortunately, the MD governor has halted some drilling in the Marcellus shale until more research is done, but PA is really endangering all of us with their careless disregard for human life and the fact they have an industry hack as head of their dept of the environment.

“In most cases the companies stated that they did not have access to proprietary information about products they purchased ‘off the shelf’ from chemical suppliers,” the report says. “In these cases, the companies are injecting fluids containing chemicals that they themselves cannot identify.”

I can’t determine whom to attribute this statement or if the statement is a quote from another article, but it is an out right lie.  I have four years of experience in oilfield chemicals, in particular the production end of the market.  First and foremost, these companies are not purchasing chemicals ‘off the shelf’, such would not be cost effective.  Oilfield chemical producers purchase chemicals by the drum(52 gallons) or by tanker load(up to 5500 gallons per purchase).  Second, each and every chemical purchased—hazardous or otherwise—is provided with an “MSDS Sheet”, i.e, Material Safety Data Sheet, from the vendor.  Third, the purchaser of these chemicals—hazardous or otherwise—is required, per OSHA, to maintain an “MSDS” file featuring all chemicals employed in the production of said company’s’ products and such file must be accessible 24/7/365 by the employee’s of the company, the fire and safety personal for the respective area and the first responders. 
For anyone, any company to make such a statement is a perfect example of someone urinating on your shoes and telling you it’s raining.  This is a blatant, bold face, out right lie.

Get Updates

Stay on top of what we’re working on by subscribing to our email digest.

optional