Recipe for Disaster: Fracking Fluids Exposed


Congressional Democrats just landed a knockout blow to the pro-fracking argument that the chemicals drilling companies inject into natural gas wells simply aren’t that bad – and don’t pose any real environmental threat. A new congressional report is out that exposes some of the frackers’ best-kept secrets, and the revelations are devastating to an industry that is already reeling from increasingly bitter opposition.

New York Times reporter Ian Urbina, who has been closely covering the fracking issue for months, sums up the latest bombshell: “…oil and gas companies injected hundreds of millions of gallons of hazardous or carcinogenic chemicals into wells in more than 13 states from 2005 to 2009, according to an investigation by Congressional Democrats.”

Both the volume of the fluid used and the number and nature of the chemicals contained in it come as a shock to even the most well-seasoned fracking opponents.

According to the report: “…many ingredients were ‘extremely toxic,’ including benzene, a known human carcinogen, and lead…companies injected large amounts of other hazardous chemicals, including 11.4 million gallons of fluids containing at least one of the toxic or carcinogenic B.T.E.X. chemicals – benzene, toluene, xylene and ethylbenzene. The companies used the highest volume of fluids containing one or more carcinogens in Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas.”

The detailed report – authored by U.S. Representatives Henry Waxman (D-CA), Edward Markey (D-MA) and Diana DeGette (D-CO) – identifies “at least 29 carcinogens and other hazardous chemicals” that drilling companies inject deep into the earth to release natural gas from shale formations. Up to this point, drilling companies had managed, for the most part, to keep secret the list of chemicals used in the fracking process.

So 780 million gallons later, we finally know what many of us suspected for years: The fracking process pumps deadly carcinogenic chemicals into the earth, which can contaminate wells and other drinking water sources.

Mr. Urbina reports that “…some ingredients mixed into the hydraulic fracturing fluids were common and generally harmless, like salt and citric acid. Others were unexpected, like instant coffee and walnut hulls, the report said.”

So, literally everything from instant coffee to benzene is in this stuff. And that’s just what we know so far. Now we’ll see the industry scramble to set up “voluntary” disclosures, in the hope of stalling Congress in its efforts to make the chemical disclosures mandatory. Honestly, are we being too hard on the drillers in demanding that they tell us what they’re injecting into our backyards? Is it too much to ask?

The problems tied to fracking continue to get worse – at least the problems we’re being told about. And we’ve noted before that the NYT coverage tends to ripple through the big regional and local news organizations across “Frackland.” So this new report will no doubt usher in at least another really bad week or two for the frackers.

I would add that, clearly, a spate of state and federal laws are being broken here – even with the Clean Water Act exemption – but nobody is ready to enforce anything. Yet.

Check out the latest milestone in the fracking battle here:

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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