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 a Congressional investigation. It was reported that the chemicals were used by companies during a drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking, which involves the high-pressure injection of a mixture of water, sand and chemical additives into rock formations deep underground. The process, which is being used to tap into large reserves of natural gas around the country, opens fissures in the rock to stimulate the release of oil and gas.
Hydrofracking has attracted increased scrutiny from lawmakers and environmentalists. It’s believed that the chemicals used during the process can contaminate underground sources of drinking water. “Questions about the safety of hydraulic fracturing persist, which are compounded by the secrecy surrounding the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluids,” said the report, which was written by Representatives Henry A. Waxman of California, Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts and Diana DeGette of Colorado. The report also faulted companies for at times “injecting fluids containing chemicals that they themselves cannot identify.”
The investigation into hydrofracking was initiated by the House Energy and Commerce Committee. It was found that 14 of the nation’s most active hydraulic fracturing companies used 866 million gallons of hydraulic fracturing products — not including water. More than 650 of these products contained chemicals that are known or possible human carcinogens, regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act, or are listed as hazardous air pollutants, according to the report.
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. 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 report came two and a half months after an initial report by the same three lawmakers that found that 32.2 million gallons of fluids containing diesel, considered an especially hazardous pollutant because it contains benzene, were injected into the ground during hydrofracking by a dozen companies from 2005 to 2009, in possible violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act.
A 2010 report by Environmental Working Group, a research and advocacy organization, found that benzene levels in other hydrofracking ingredients were as much as 93 times higher than those found in diesel. The use of these chemicals has been a source of concern to regulators and environmentalists who worry that some of them could find their way out of a well bore — because of above-ground spills, underground failures of well casing or migration through layers of rock — and into nearby sources of drinking water. These contaminants also remain in the fluid that returns to the surface after a well is hydrofracked.
Source: New York Times
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