In this section you’ll find:
- What is hydraulic fracturing (aka fracking)?
- Fracking chemicals
- US House Committee findings
- One fact for families
- More informational videos
What is Hydraulic Fracturing (aka Fracking)?
Hydraulic fracturing is a process used in nine out of 10 natural gas wells in the United States, where millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals are pumped underground to break apart the rock and release the gas.
Scientists are worried that the chemicals used in fracturing may pose a threat either underground or when waste fluids are handled and sometimes spilled on the surface.
Horizontal fracking uses up to 300 tons of a mixture of 750 chemicals, many of them proprietary, and millions of gallons of water per frack. This water then becomes contaminated and must be cleaned and disposed of. To date, the oil/gas industry has been secretive about what chemicals are used, and has lobbied Congress for a variety of protections. Much of the contaminated water is taken to water treatment plants that are not designed to process the chemicals and radiation found in fracking fluids.
The Safe Drinking Water Act was passed by Congress, in 1974, to ensure clean drinking water free from both natural and man-made contaminates.
In 2005, the Bush/Cheney Energy Bill exempted natural gas drilling from the Safe Drinking Water Act. It exempts companies from disclosing the chemicals used during hydraulic fracturing. Essentially, the provision took the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) off the job. It is now commonly referred to as the Halliburton Loophole.
US House Committee Findings
In April of 2011, the US House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce Minority Staff released a report titled Chemicals Used in Hydraulic Fracturing.
Representative Henry Waxman, who helped prepare the report, has said, “Hydraulic fracturing has helped to expand natural gas production in the United States, but we must ensure that these new resources don’t come at the expense of public health. This report shows that these companies are injecting millions of gallons of products that contain potentially hazardous chemicals, including known carcinogens. I urge EPA and DOE to make certain that we have strong protections in place to prevent these chemicals from entering drinking water supplies.”
Among the report’s findings:
- The 14 leading oil and gas service companies used more than 780 million gallons of hydraulic fracturing products, not including water added at the well site. Overall, the companies used more than 2,500 hydraulic fracturing products containing 750 different chemicals and other components.
- The components used in the hydraulic fracturing products ranged from generally harmless and common substances, such as salt and citric acid, to extremely toxic substances, such as benzene and lead.
- Between 2005 and 2009, the oil and gas service companies used hydraulic fracturing products containing 29 chemicals that are known or possible human carcinogens, regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act for their risks to human health, or listed as hazardous air pollutants under the Clean Air Act.
- The BTEX compounds – benzene, toluene, xylene, and ethylbenzene – are Safe Drinking Water Act contaminants and hazardous air pollutants. In particular, benzene is a known human carcinogen. The hydraulic fracturing companies injected 11.4 million gallons of products containing at least one BTEX chemical over a five-year period.
- Methanol, which was used in 342 hydraulic fracturing products, was the most widely used chemical between 2005 and 2009. The substance is a hazardous air pollutant and is on the candidate list for potential regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
One Fact for Families
In February of 2011, website Rodale.com (“Where Health Meets Green”) published an article entitled “5 Facts about Fracking Every Family Needs to Know.” Here is Rodale’s Fact #2:
2. Fracking chemicals are extremely dangerous. Since most natural gas drilling companies will not disclose all of the products they use in the drilling process, Theo Colborn, PhD, founder and president of The Endocrine Disruption Exchange, set out to figure out what’s in the chemical cocktails used to drill wells and frack. She and her team found 649 different chemicals, more than half of which are known to disrupt the endocrine system. Exposure to these types of chemicals has been linked to certain cancers, diabetes, obesity, and metabolic syndrome (the name for a group of risk factors that occur together and increase the risk for heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes). Fifty-five percent of the chemicals cause brain and nervous system damage, and many are linked to cancer and organ damage. The threat of exposure to these chemicals occurs via contaminated air, water, and soil. “They’re getting away with absolute murder; it’s criminal, the things they’re doing,” says award-winning scientist Colborn. “If you destroy an aquifer, you’ve lost it. You’ve destroyed your drinking water supply.”
More Informational Videos
- A CBC News report about a former oil worker’s concerns about fracking.
- Protest against fracking outside the Ohio Statehouse
- Frack pump blowout, an accident where fracking fluids are sprayed out at high pressure
- Another accidental fracking blowout
- Citizen captures video of a truck dumping frack fluids on the side of the road in Pennsylvania
- Citizen films a truck in North Dakota leaking frack waste while driving down the road