At least 10 percent of the contents of fracking fluid injected into the earth is toxic. For another third we have no idea. And that’s only from the list of chemicals the fracking industry provided voluntarily. That’s according to an analysis by William Stringfellow of Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory, reported in Chemistry World.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is the practice of injecting fluid at high pressure into the earth, which breaks up oil- and gas-filled rock formations that is then extracted to the surface. The contents and makeup of that fluid have been a subject of controversy, largely because drilling companies are able to keep what’s in it a secret, and because the fluid has been known to leak and spill on a regular basis.
Stringfellow mostly used FracFocus’ voluntary registry of 250 fracking chemicals provided by the industry to check against existing toxicology information. He found that about 10 percent of the chemicals are known to be hazardous “in terms of mammalian or aquatic toxicology,” Stringfellow said at the a meeting of the American Chemical Society. But for almost a third of those 250 chemicals, there’s no publicly available information on their toxicity to humans or other life. And that’s not even counting the chemicals that the industry can simply choose to keep a secret.
FracFocus was in the news last week when drilling companies came under scrutiny for injecting diesel fuel into the earth to frack oil and gas, something for which they are supposed to have a permit. When that came to light, many companies simply went back and removed past mentions of injecting diesel.
Pressure is growing for companies to stop concealing the chemical mixtures they use for fracking. The companies Baker Hughes and Schlumberger chose to disclose their entire fracking formulas, and other companies may follow suit. “Industry knows what its problem compounds are, and they’re trying to replace those,” Stringfellow said. And until then, they’re likely to keep their formulas a secret.
A 1986 law passed by Congress set up the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory program, a publicly-viewable database of toxic chemicals released by various industries. It’s up to the EPA to decide who has to report to the database, and it hasn’t chosen to include the oil and gas industry. Environmental groups have been pushing for the EPA to add the industry since 2012, as oil and gas extraction continues to grow, and increased fracking exposes more Americans to hazardous chemicals.