Disclosure of chemicals in gas fracking advances

This week brought some important advances in the campaign to give the public access to information on chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells.  CAP’s Tom Kenworthy has the story.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar strongly suggested that a policy overhaul at his department would include new requirements for public disclosure of  chemicals used on federal lands that contain 11% of U.S. natural gas reserves. And three energy industry trade groups announced they will support efforts to create a registry where oil and gas companies can voluntarily post – well by well – what chemicals they use.

Despite the continuing shift toward disclosure by the very industry they purport to protect, key GOP members of Congress engaged in some predictable caterwauling about how transparency will kill jobs and hurt an industry they laughably maintain is sufficiently regulated by the states. In essence, two lawmakers who will have a big say over public land management come January said: “over our (brain) dead bodies.”

Hydraulic fracturing, commonly called fracking, is a widely-used process to stimulate production from oil and gas wells. It involves pumping a combination of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure into wells to create and hold open fissures in underground rock formations. Though the technique was developed more than a half century ago, it has more recently become nearly standard industry practice. It is used on about 90 percent of wells on public lands, according to the federal Bureau of Land Management.

As its use has grown in combination with horizontal drilling, and as huge new natural gas fields have been developed to exploit shale gas formations from the northeast to Texas, public concerns have mushroomed about the chemicals being used and the possibilities of contamination of water supplies if fracturing fluid is spilled or escapes underground. In the wake of numerous anecdotal accounts of water wells being contaminated by drilling operations, the Environmental Protection Agency is in the early stages of conducting a thorough study of hydraulic fracturing  and its potential risks to public health.

Wading into this controversy, Salazar said Tuesday his department is drawing up a new policy governing drilling techniques on federal land. He didn’t leave a lot of doubt the policy would include a requirement that operators disclose what chemicals they use.

Speaking at a forum [transcript here] at the Interior Department, Salazar said “We will be considering issuing a policy that will deal with the issue of disclosure requirements with respect to the fluids that are used with hydraulic fracturing”¦.  There are those who argue that the best interest for the future of natural gas is to make sure there is transparency with respect to that issue so that everybody knows what is being injected into the underground.”

The department’s public forum on hydraulic fracturing came a day after the New York State Assembly approved a moratorium on new wells using the technique. The legislation, already approved by the state Senate, is expected to be signed into law by Gov. David Paterson.

Also this week, three oil and gas industry trade associations – America’s Natural Gas Alliance, the Independent Petroleum Association of America and the American Exploration & Production Council – announced their support for the establishment of a fracking chemicals registry being developed by the Ground Water Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission. Though participation in the registry would be voluntary by individual companies, it still represents a meaningful, if incomplete, step.

Obviously, the energy industry is beginning to read the writing on the wall as far as public disclosure is concerned. Not so illiterate members of Congress, including Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA), who will likely assume the chairmanship of the House Natural Resources Committee, and Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT), who will probably take over the panel’s public lands subcommittee.

In a letter to Salazar, Hastings said the policy referenced by the Interior secretary “would threaten thousands of jobs, deepen the federal deficit through reduced revenues, and harm natural gas development and our nation’s energy security.” For his part, Bishop told E&E Daily (subs. req’d) that “There is no reason the federal government should impose additional regulations and red tape on our nation’s domestic energy producers.”

No reason except for the fact that only one state, Wyoming of all places, has solid requirements for public disclosure of fracking chemicals – and before actual drilling takes place. Real trade secrets are protected, and the system appears to be working well.

Tom Kenworthy is a CAP Senior Fellow who focuses on renewable energy and environmental issues.

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22 Responses to Disclosure of chemicals in gas fracking advances

  1. Mike Roddy says:

    Voluntary disclosure of toxic chemicals for fracting is better than nothing, but just barely. It may not even be a bad legal strategy (“Don’t blame us if your tapwater catches fire. We warned you that it might contain benzene”) etc.

    Mandatory disclosure and thorough analysis are needed. Academic researchers could step in here and perform independent investigations, since Interior still has Bush holdovers who could easily cave in to the gas companies by writing a weak report.

    When the final report demonstrates hazards to watersheds, even if it’s predictably watered down, gas companies that ruin drinking water should then be held legally accountable. The Republicans will try to pass a no-liability law in Congress, and Blue Dogs could push it over the top. Obama needs to veto it.

  2. Aaron Lewis says:

    Even if the fracking compounds are innocuous, they can damage containment layers that protect or support drinking water source aquifers or force deeper, more saline waters up into lower salinity waters, thereby degrading the aquifer.

    Locating geologic strata that may be damaged or saline water that may be forced upward is an expensive and difficult task. Requirements for such analysis would remove many of the advantages of horizontal drilling, and hence the economic feasibility of some fields.

  3. Russell says:

    So cut to the paper chase and name names, Tom- why not call up the engineering professor who teaches Frakking 101 at Softrock U in West Waco and give us the chemical top ten list ?

  4. Edward says:

    CH4 should be left in the ground to slow GW. Sign the petition at:

  5. Russell says:


    unfortunately , neithee of your links names any specific chemicals added to the water used in hydraulic fracturing

  6. Prokaryotes says:

    SMH: Australian mining companies ‘fracking’ with highly toxic chemicals near watercourses

    A government list of 36 chemicals used in coal seam gas extraction in Australia includes hydrochloric and acetic acid, and napthalene- an ingredient once used in napalm as well as more mundane items such as mothballs – and many other hydrocarbons.

  7. Prokaryotes says:

    SMH: Toxins found at third site as fracking fears build

    TRACES of toxic chemicals have been found at a ”fracking” operation to extract coal seam gas – the third time this year that gas producers have detected contamination at a drill site.
    Arrow Energy confirmed that benzene, toluene, ethylene and xylene – together known as BTEX – had been found in wells at a gas site east of Mackay, Queensland.
    In NSW documents obtained from the Department of Industry and Investment show that a coal seam gas drilling site near Lismore, run by the Sydney company Metgasco, was permitted to use fracking after supplying a generic list of hazardous materials safety guidelines.
    Emails between department staff and Metgasco show that testing for coal seam gas using fracking can go ahead without approval being sought or required from the Environment Department.

  8. Prokaryotes says:

    Controversial gas ‘fracking’ extraction headed to Europe
    Ecologist: Europe’s dash for gas is leading Halliburton, Chevron and Exxon to consider bringing hydraulic fracturing across the Atlantic

    Yet Kassenberg remains cautious. ‘In the long term shale gas is still a fossil fuel, and in the short term it creates local problems related to nature conservation and water sources. There is a need to think of the worse-case scenario and prepare for it.’

    Water supply in many regions of Poland is of low quality, a hang-over from the Communist era, and Kassenberg fears hydraulic fracturing will add unwanted stress. ‘In areas with water shortages, shale-gas exploration will create problems for supply, although it is difficult to give a definitive conclusion because it is still not known exactly where exploration will happen.’

    Another issue is infrastructure, which is currently not sufficient to support the potential gas boom. Wells will be located in rural areas, to which water will need to be regularly trucked, and fracking fluid trucked back out. There is also uncertainty about how gas will be transported. Whatever the outcome, traffic will be greatly increased.

    ‘Construction of pipelines could cause problems, but so could the construction of roads,’ adds Kassenberg. ‘If roads are built to transport water and gas then it will open up pristine countryside to mass tourism, and could bring an additional negative impact to the environment.’

    The Polish government, on the other hand, is largely ignoring stories of environmental impacts emanating from America. Shale gas has become an issue of national foreign policy and taken up with vigour by foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski.

    In Britain, Cuadrilla Resources has completed a test well in the Bowland Shale formation between Pendle Hill and Blackpool, in Lancashire. The company is backed by Riverstone Holdings, a private equity firm in which ex-BP boss Lord Browne is a partner and managing director.

  9. Prokaryotes says:

    Exxon Mobil Corp. said today that 4,200 gallons of “produced water” were spilled from a Pennsylvania natural gas well site of company subsidiary XTO Energy in Pennsylvania as a result of a valve being left open on a storage tank. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) said the dirty water polluted a nearby stream and a spring.

    Read more:

  10. Prokaryotes says:

    Never heard of “fracking”? If not, chances are you will soon. It is short for hydraulic fracturing, and is part of a process by which the United States is tapping into a vast new source of energy – natural gas trapped in shale rock, deep underground.

    But this new source of energy is controversial. Video sharing website YouTube is buzzing with clips showing people who live close to gas drill sites setting light to their tap water.

    They claim this happened only after drilling released methane gas and contaminated their private water wells.

  11. Prokaryotes says:

    Fracking in germany

    Fracing in Niedersachsen/Germany : chemicals used by Exxon
    Chemikalie CAS-Nummer
    Tetramethylammonium chloride 75-57-0
    Petroleum distillate hydrotreated light 64742-47-8
    Ethoxylated octylphenol 9036-19-5
    Magnesium chloride 7786-30-3
    Magnesium nitrate 10377-60-3
    ein Biozid 55965-84-9
    Quelle: SPIEGEL-ONLINE-Recherchen,1518,725697,00.html

  12. Prokaryotes says:


    Chemicals in Natural Gas Operations

    As natural gas production rapidly increases across the U.S., its associated pollution has reached the stage where it is contaminating essential life support systems – water, air, and soil – and causing harm to the health of humans, wildlife, domestic animals, and vegetation. This project was designed to explore the health effects of products and chemicals used in drilling, fracturing (frac’ing, or stimulation), recovery and delivery of natural gas. It provides a glimpse at the pattern(s) of possible health hazards posed by the chemicals being used. There are hundreds of products in current use, the components of which are, in many cases, unavailable for public scrutiny and for which we have information only on a small percentage. We therefore make no claim that our list is complete.

    Toxic chemicals are used at every stage of development to reach and release the gas. Drilling muds, a combination of toxic and non-toxic substances, are used to drill the well. To facilitate the release of natural gas after drilling, approximately a million or more gallons of fluids, loaded with toxic chemicals, are injected underground under high pressure. This process, called fracturing (frac’ing or stimulation), uses diesel-powered heavy equipment that runs continuously during the operation. One well can be frac’ed 10 or more times and there can be up to 28 wells on one well pad. An estimated 30% to 70% of the frac’ing fluid will resurface, bringing back with it toxic substances that are naturally present in underground oil and gas deposits, as well as the chemicals used in the frac’ing fluid. Under some circumstances, nothing is recovered.

    Drilling or reserve pits are found on most well pads. They hold used drilling muds, frac’ing fluids and the contaminated water (produced water) which surfaces with the gas. Produced water is found in most regions where gas is extracted and continues to surface for the life of the well (20 to 30 years). It is a common practice to haul it in “water trucks” to large, central evaporation pits. Many of the chemicals found in drilling and evaporation pits are considered hazardous wastes by the Superfund Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). Upon closure, every pit has the potential to become a superfund site.

    Potable and arable water resources in the West are already marginal and especially vulnerable to contamination. Mountain watersheds that provide drinking and irrigation water for vast numbers of people downstream are at risk of contamination as a result of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) leasing of hundreds of thousands of acres of underground mineral and gas resources to energy developers. Just as there is no accounting for what happens to the millions of gallons of fluids used to drill and fracture each well, there is no accounting for the source of the water being taken to complete these processes, how much of the fluid is water, and where and in what condition it is returned to the watershed.

  13. Prokaryotes says:

    TEDX’s manuscript Natural Gas Operations from a Public Health Perspective has been accepted for publication in the International Journal of Human and Ecological Risk Assessment, a peer-reviewed scientific journal. Click here to download the manuscript.

    Several different types of pits are used in natural gas operations. Drilling pits are earthen-bermed reservoirs on the well pad used for storage of discarded fluids from drilling, fracturing or other processes. These might be lined with heavy plastic sheeting, or unlined. Large evaporation pit complexes are used to dispose of water stripped from the natural gas as it surfaces, and the fluids from the drilling pits. These pits can be either commercial, servicing many drilling companies, or private, operated by one company. Natural gas processing plants also use pits to dispose of the water used to “wash” the gas before it leaves the refinery.

    In 2007, an industry committee comprised of 19 oil and gas companies operating in New Mexico sponsored a sampling and analysis program (SAP) of pit solids. The SAP was completed by a third party consultant and analytical laboratory. The SAP focused on six drilling reserve pits in the San Juan Basin of northwestern New Mexico and the Permian Basin of southeast New Mexico prior to closure. TEDX’s analysis of the chemicals, their relevance to national toxics lists, and an EXCEL spreadsheet (which can be downloaded, searched and sorted as needed) are provided below.

    Click here to download a summary of chemicals found in six drilling reserve pits in New Mexico (PDF).

    Click here to download a summary of chemicals on national toxics lists found in the New Mexico pits (PDF).

    Click here to download an EXCEL spreadsheet of chemicals found in six drilling reserve pits in New Mexico.

  14. Prokaryotes says:

    Drilling Chemicals

    The information here is based on chemicals used in drilling a natural gas well, Crosby 25-3, in Park County, Wyoming. Natural gas, petroleum condensate, and drilling fluids were accidentally released from the ground adjacent to the well due to a breach in the surface casing. This occured over a period of about 58 hours between August 11 and 13th, 2006.

    Click here to download a summary of the products and chemicals used to drill the Crosby 25-3 well (PDF).

    Click here to download an EXCEL spreadsheet of the chemicals used to drill the Crosby 25-3 well.

  15. Prokaryotes says:

    In the early 1990’s, it was revealed that the traditional toxicological testing protocols used to determine chemical safety had completely missed vast numbers of chemicals that penetrate the womb and interfere with the construction and programming of developing animals, including humans. Since that time, overwhelming evidence has accumulated indicating that the presence of infinitesimally small quantities of certain chemicals during the continuously changing stages of development before birth can alter one’s inherited phenotype, e.g., the ability to learn, to love, to bond, to process information, to reproduce, and even to maintain normal body weight. Because these chemicals interfere with development by disturbing the function of the endocrine system, they are called endocrine disruptors. The endocrine system is so fine tuned that it depends upon changes in hormones in concentrations as little as a tenth of a trillion of a gram to control the womb environment. That’s as inconspicuous as one second in 3,169 centuries.

    Recent advances in research confirm that endocrine disruptors can interfere with the gene-controlled, normal signaling systems that determine every aspect of embryonic and fetal development. Over the past decade it has been demonstrated that there are endless ways endocrine disruptors can interfere with gene expression. They can interfere with how genes are programmed in the developing tissues of the unborn, thus changing how a teen or an adult would ordinarily respond to the normal chemical signals that control function as they mature. Disorders that have increased in prevalence in recent years such as abnormal male gonadal development, infertility, ADHD, autism, intellectual impairment, diabetes, thyroid disorders, and childhood and/or adult cancers are now being linked to fetal exposure. The increases in these disorders are also being reported in other northern hemisphere countries, constituting a problem of global proportion.

    The costs of such disorders at the individual and family level can oftentimes be heart-rending and economically devastating; increasing numbers of individuals are spending their lives in a state of dependency. At the population level, the costs run into billions of dollars in lost income annually for one disorder alone. Endocrine disruptors have become an integral part of our economy and modern lifestyle, while at the same time are insidiously depleting the pool of healthy and intelligent individuals on a global scale.

  16. Prokaryotes says:

    This list was amended on November 15, 2007 after discovering that the laboratory doing the analysis admitted it purposefully added nine chemicals (listed below) to the samples prior to testing. This amended document is a reanalysis of the chemicals in the reserve pits excluding those added by industry.
    Oil and Grease
    Radium 226
    Radium 228
    3+4 Methylphenol
    Methylene chloride
    Substances eliminated
    Carbon disulfide
    Cyanide, total
    Diesel range organics
    Gasoline range organics

    Possible health effects associated with the 42 substances detected in 6 New Mexico drilling reserve pits
    Possible health effects associated with 24 (57%) volatile substances in 6 drilling reserve pits in New Mexico:
    gastrointestinal and liver toxicants
    respiratory toxicants
    skin and sensory organ toxicants
    cardiovascular and blood toxicants
    kidney toxicants
    developmental toxicants
    reproductive toxicants
    result in other disorders
    wildlife toxicants
    endocrine disruptors
    gastrointestinal and liver toxicants
    respiratory toxicants
    skin and sensory organ toxicants
    kidney toxicants
    cardiovascular and blood toxicants
    developmental toxicants
    wildlife toxicants
    result in other disorders
    reproductive toxicants
    endocrine disruptors

  17. Prokaryotes says:

    Written testimony of Theo Colborn, PhD, President of TEDX, Paonia, Colorado before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, hearing on The Applicability of Federal Requirements to Protect Public Health and the Environment from Oil and Gas Development, October 31, 2007.

  18. Prokaryotes says:

    The 2005 energy bill, spearheaded by then-Vice President Dick Cheney, exempted natural gas drilling from disclosure requirements of federal clean water laws. Critics call that the “Halliburton exception” because Halliburton, the company where Cheney was once CEO, helped pioneer fracking.

    The results show how a surge in drilling for natural gas in huge
    deposits of shale rock formations in the Northeast and Southwest is
    making up for a loss of business in the offshore Gulf of Mexico, the
    company said.

  19. Prokaryotes says:

    — WILLIAMSPORT – The state Department of Environmental Protection is continuing to investigate a hydraulic fracturing fluid spill at an XTO Energy natural gas well pad in Penn Township, Lycoming County, which was first discovered last week.

    “This spill was initially estimated at more than 13,000 gallons by the company and has polluted an unnamed tributary to Sugar Run and a spring,” said DEP Northcentral Regional Director Nels Taber.

    “There are also two private drinking water wells in the vicinity that will be sampled for possible impacts.”

    A DEP inspector discovered the spill while inspecting the well pad. The inspector found that the bottom valve on a 21,000-gallon fracking fluid tank was open and discharging fluid off the well pad. No one else was present at the pad, which has one producing Marcellus well.

    The DEP inspector was able to close the valve and XTO Energy officials were immediately contacted about the spill. The company has not provided any explanation for the open valve.

  20. Prokaryotes says:

    Company shuts down oil well in ND after spill

    State health officials said Monday that oil, natural gas and water that spilled into a lined pit after a weekend rupture at a North Dakota oil well had been contained.

    Crews were working Monday to stop the leak at the Whiting Petroleum Corp. well about eight miles northwest of New Town. The well was shut down after a valve near the wellhead failed on Saturday, causing the leak

  21. Prokaryotes says:

    Tapping natural gas could unleash uranium

    Plans to tap one of the largest sources of natural gas in the United States could release naturally trapped uranium into the environment, researchers say.

    Proposals to drill into the Marcellus shale — a massive rock formation that stretches from New York through Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia — have critics focusing on the effects of pumping millions of gallons of water and chemicals deep underground to fracture rocks to release the natural gas.

    Cheney Singlehand Destroyer of Worlds