Vast deposits of natural gas have driven a drilling boom across 32 states.
Although the boom is helping the US generate more energy on its own soil, a study published Monday, May 4 points out a potential health problem linked with the practice, known as hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.”
Some of the chemicals common in the fracking fluids were also found in drinking water wells in Pennsylvania, albeit in trace amounts.
Fracking has been designated as safe since a 2004 study by the Environmental Protection Agency found that it posed no risk to drinking water.
Numerous ProPublica investigations, however, found fracking to be the common thread in more than 1,000 cases of water contamination across seven states, including dozens of cases of well failures in which the concrete or steel meant to protect aquifers cracked under high pressure.
This latest study is another, more severe example of that contamination.
“This is the first documented and published demonstration of toxic compounds escaping from uncased boreholes in shale gas wells and moving long distances” into drinking water, Susan Brantley, one of the study’s authors, recently told the Associated Press.
In addition, a 2011 congressional report found that the 14 leading US fracking companies injected 10.2 million gallons of more than 650 products into the ground that contained chemicals that are known or possible human carcinogens.Methanol
Methanol appeared most often in hydraulic fracturing products (in terms of the number of compounds containing the chemical).
Found in antifreeze, paint solvent and vehicle fuel.
Vapors can cause eye irritation, headache and fatigue, and in high enough doses can be fatal. Swallowing may cause eye damage or death.BTEX compounds
The BTEX compounds – benzene, toluene, xylene, and ethylbenzene – are listed as hazardous air pollutants in the Clean Air Act and contaminents in the Safe Drinking Water Act.
Benzene, commonly found in gasoline, is also a known human carcinogen. Long time exposure can cause cancer, bone marrow failure, or leukemia. Short term effects include dizziness, weakness, headache, breathlessness, chest constriction, nausea, and vomiting.
Toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes have harmful effects on the central nervous system.
The hydraulic fracturing companies injected 11.4 million gallons of products containing at least one BTEX chemical between 2005 and 2009.
Diesel fuel A carcinogen listed as a hazardous air pollutant under the Clean Air Act and a contaminant in the Safe Drinking Water Act.In its 2004 report, the EPA stated that the “use of diesel fuel in fracturing fluids poses the greatest threat” to underground sources of drinking water.
Hydraulic fracturing companies injected more than 30 million gallons of diesel fuel or hydraulic fracturing fluids containing diesel fuel in wells in 19 states.
Diesel fuel contains toxic constituents, including BTEX compounds.
Contact with skin may cause redness, itching, burning, severe skin damage and cancer.
(Kerosene is also used. Found in jet and rocket fuel, the vapor can cause irritation of the eyes and nose, and ingestion can be fatal. Chronic exposure may cause drowsiness, convulsions, coma or death.)Lead A carcinogen found in paint, building construction materials and roofing joints.
It is listed as a hazardous air pollutant in the Clean Air Act and a contaminant in the Safe Drinking Water Act.
Lead is particularly harmful to children’s neurological development. It also can cause reproductive problems, high blood pressure, and nerve disorders in adults.
One of the hydraulic fracturing companies used 780 gallons of a product containing lead between 2005 and 2009.
Found in rust removers, aluminum brighteners and heavy duty cleaners.
>Listed as a hazardous air pollutant in the Clean Air Act.
Fumes are highly irritating, corrosive, and poisonous. Repeated ingestion over time can lead to hardening of the bones, and contact with liquid can produce severe burns. A lethal dose is 1.5 grams.
Absorption of substantial amounts of hydrogen fluoride by any route may be fatal.
One of the hydraulic fracturing companies used 67,222 gallons of two products containing hydrogen fluoride in 2008 and 2009.Naphthalene
A carcinogen found in mothballs.
Listed as a hazardous air pollutant in the Clean Air Act.
Inhalation can cause respiratory tract irritation, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, fever or death.
A carcinogen found in lead-acid batteries for cars.
Corrosive to all body tissues. Inhalation may cause serious lung damage and contact with eyes can lead to a total loss of vision. The lethal dose is between 1 teaspoonful and one-half ounce.
A carcinogen found in concrete, brick mortar and construction sands.
Dust is harmful if inhaled repeatedly over a long period of time and can lead to silicosis or cancer.
A carcinogen found in embalming agents for human or animal remains.
Ingestion of even one ounce of liquid can cause death. Exposure over a long period of time can cause lung damage and reproductive problems in women.
Unknown chemicals “Many of the hydraulic fracturing fluids contain chemical components that are listed as ‘proprietary’ or ‘trade secret.’ The companies used 94 million gallons of 279 products that contained at least one chemical or component that the manufacturers deemed proprietary or a trade secret. In many instances, the oil and gas service companies were unable to identify these ‘proprietary’ chemicals, suggesting that the companies are injecting fluids containing chemicals that they themselves cannot identify.”