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Dangerous Fracking Chemicals

One of the most serious charges against hydraulic fracturing is that the fracking fluids are a witches’ brew of noxious chemicals. Those additives are blown into the shale formation along with high-pressure hot water to blast open the rock and release the trapped gas.

A variety of chemicals are used in hydraulic fracturing fluids. The oil and gas industry and trade groups are quick to point out that chemicals typically make up just 0.5 and 2.0% of the total volume of the fracturing fluid. When millions of gallons of water are being used, however, the amount of chemicals per fracking operation is very large. For example, a four million gallon fracturing operation would use from 80 to 330 tons of chemicals.

And, as a general rule, we don’t know exactly what those chemicals are. The industry considers the exact mix of compounds and additives to be a business secret. In some cases, though, scientists and environmental advocates have been able to figure out the types of additives used.

The listing below is based largely on research compiled by New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation:

  • Proppants. These additives “prop open” cracks in the shale allowing fluids and gas to flow more freely to the bore. Examples: Sand, sintered bauxite, zirconium oxide, ceramic beads
  • Acids. These clean up cement and drilling mud before fracturing fluid is injected, and clear the path through the shale formation. Examples: Hydrochloric acid (HCl, 3% to 28%) or muriatic acid
  • Breakers. These chemicals reduce the viscosity (thickness) of the fluid so the proppant will flow into fractures. Examples: Peroxydisulfates
  • Biocide. Chemicals to kill bacteria and other organisms that could produce gases (particularly hydrogen sulfide) which could contaminate methane gas. Examples: Gluteraldehyde; 2-Bromo-2-nitro-1,2-propanediol
  • Buffers. These chemicals adjust the pH of the fluid in order to maximize the effectiveness of other additives such as crosslinkers. Examples: Sodium or potassium carbonate; acetic acid
  • Clay stabilizers. These additives block clays and other soils from swelling or moving to block the open channels created in the mining operation. Examples: tetramethyl ammonium chloride, potassium chloride
  • Corrosion inhibitor. Prevents steel materials from being damaged by acidic fracking fluids. Examples: methanol, ammonium bisulfate
  • Crosslinkers. The fluid viscosity is increased using phosphate esters combined with metals. The metals are referred to as crosslinking agents. The increased fracturing fluid viscosity allows the fluid to carry more proppant into the fractures. Examples: Potassium hydroxide; borate salts
  • Friction reducer. These plastic-like compounds allow fracture fluids to be injected at faster rates and higher pressures by minimizing friction. Examples: Sodium acrylate-acrylamide copolymer, polyacrylamide (PAM), petroleum distillates
  • Gelling agents. These additives increase fracturing fluid viscosity (thickness), allowing the fluid to carry more proppant into the fractures. Examples: Guar gum; petroleum distillate
  • Iron control. Chemicals of this family prevent carbonate and sulfate compounds from precipitating to form “plugs” in the shale formation. Examples: Ammonium chloride, ethylene glycol, polyacrylate
  • Solvents. These chemicals allow water and oil to mix more easily. Examples: Various aromatic hydrocarbons
  • Surfactants. These alcohols reduce the surface tension in the fracturing fluid. Examples: methanol, isopropanol, ethoxylated alcohol 

This can’t be good for us, can it?

Many fracturing fluid chemicals are known to be toxic to humans and wildlife, and several are known to cause cancer. Potentially toxic substances include petroleum distillates such as kerosene and diesel fuel (which contain benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene, xylene, naphthalene and other chemicals); polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons; methanol; formaldehyde; ethylene glycol; glycol ethers; hydrochloric acid; and sodium hydroxide.

Very small quantities of some fracking chemicals are capable of contaminating millions of gallons of water. According to the Environmental Working Group, petroleum-based products known as petroleum distillates are likely to contain benzene, a known human carcinogen that is toxic in water at levels greater than five parts per billion (or 0.005 parts per million).

Other chemicals used in fracking, such as 1,2-Dichloroethane are volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Volatile organic constituents have been shown to be present in fracturing fluid flowback wastes at levels that exceed drinking water standards. VOCs not only pose a health concern while in the water, the volatile nature of the constituents means that they can also easily enter the air.

Clearly, some hydraulic fracturing fluids contain chemicals that would be considered “hazardous wastes” in another context. Even if these chemicals are diluted it is unconscionable that government agencies are allowing these substances to be injected directly into underground sources of drinking water.

It’s time to act

We can’t sit by idly while energy conglomerates poison our water and land. We owe more than that to each other and to the next generation who will be living in the Marcellus Shale area.

As a first step, if you know of an instance where exposure to fracking fluids has harmed someone’s health, or if you know of an accident or injury at a fracking job site, you need to report it.

If you or a loved one has been injured, then reporting the incident becomes even more vital. Ostroff Injury Law is the only Frackcident™ injury law firm in America. Jon Ostroff wants to hear your story — and he wants to help you. He has assembled a great legal team who stand ready to take on your case and get you compensation if fracking operations have caused physical or financial injury to you or to members of your family. Call him today at (855)FRACKLAW for a FREE consultation on your case.

*Image © J Henry Fair 2012 – flight provided by LightHawk.