A New Study Reveals How Fracking Companies Pollute Water Without Oversight

Fracking corporations used greater than 282 million kilos of hazardous chemical substances from 2014 to 2021 with no federal oversight, in accordance with a brand new examine.

The examine, printed in Environmental Pollution, is the primary to look at the “Halliburton Loophole,” which exempts fracking from federal regulation underneath the Protected Ingesting Water Act.

The supply, handed by Congress as a part of the Power Coverage Act of 2005, was endorsed by then-Vice President Dick Cheney, who previously served because the CEO of Halliburton. The corporate patented fracking applied sciences within the Nineteen Forties and continues to be one of many prime suppliers of fracking fluids on this planet.

The examine discovered that from 2014 by means of 2021, 62% to 73% of reported fracking jobs annually used not less than one chemical that’s categorized as dangerous to human well being and the surroundings underneath the Protected Ingesting Water Act.

These chemical substances embrace carcinogens like formaldehyde, arsenic and benzene; attainable carcinogens like acrylamide and naphthalene; and ethylene glycol, which may injury the kidneys, nerves and respiratory system.

In line with the examine, the fracking business reported utilizing not less than 250 million kilos of ethylene glycol, 10 million kilos of naphthalene, 1.8 million kilos of formaldehyde, 4.6 million kilos of acrylamide, 7.5 million kilos of benzene and 590 kilos of arsenic from 2014 to 2021, along with greater than a dozen different chemical substances regulated underneath the Protected Ingesting Water Act.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, extracts pure oil and fuel from the Earth by drilling deep wells and injecting enormous volumes of water and chemical substances at excessive strain. Earlier analysis has proven that fracking chemical substances can wind up in drinking water and impact human health. Solely a handful of the poisonous chemical substances utilized by the business are regulated in ingesting water, and those who aren’t is probably not filtered or monitored by public water utilities. The Environmental Working Group, a public well being advocacy nonprofit, estimates that present ranges of contamination in ingesting water — most of which meet authorized requirements — may cause 100,000 cancer cases within the U.S.

Halliburton loophole
How the “Halliburton Loophole” lets fracking corporations pollute water with no oversight. Credit score: Alpha Picture/flickr.

“Due to the Halliburton Loophole and gaps in reporting, the environmental well being and justice impacts of fracking aren’t being correctly assessed,” Vivian Underhill, lead creator of the examine and a postdoctoral researcher at Northeastern College, informed Environmental Well being Information (EHN).

Underhill mentioned the portions of those chemical substances are possible an underestimate, since not all states require disclosure of fracking chemical substances, and most states requiring disclosure permit corporations to maintain some chemical substances secret if they are saying the mixtures are proprietary.

Throughout the identical time interval, fracking corporations reported utilizing about 7.2 billion kilos of proprietary chemical substances — greater than 25 occasions the whole mass of chemical substances listed underneath the Protected Ingesting Water Act that they reported. There’s no option to know what quantity of these chemical substances are hazardous.

“We noticed proprietary chemical substances in 77% of disclosures in 2015, and that quantity was as much as 88% in 2021,” mentioned Underhill. “The usage of commerce secrets and techniques is steadily growing, and that’s positively regarding.”

A Backroom Deal With Public Penalties

The Protected Ingesting Water Act regulates each public ingesting water contaminants and the injection of poisonous chemical substances underground.

Different industries that inject hazardous chemical substances underground the place they might contaminate water provides, like mining and dangerous waste disposal, are topic to federal laws underneath the Protected Ingesting Water Act. The fracking business is exempt from these laws.

“The oil and fuel program underneath the Protected Ingesting Water Act was already weak, however the Halliburton Loophole gouged it even larger for fracking particularly,” Erik Olson, an legal professional, Protected Ingesting Water Act skilled and senior strategist on the Pure Sources Protection Council, informed EHN. “Oil and fuel wells are principally to be regulated by the states underneath a way more versatile oversight scheme, and people packages are very weak in lots of states with a giant oil and fuel presence.”

Earlier analysis has demonstrated public well being harms from this lack of oversight in states like Pennsylvania and Colorado.

The fracking business agreed to publicly disclose some chemical substances it makes use of in response to public concern about threats to water. However Underhill and Olson say these disclosures aren’t helpful due to the commerce secrets and techniques provision.

“This examine exhibits us that there are numerous very poisonous chemical substances being injected underground by this business,” Olson mentioned. “But it surely’s laborious to say there’s any sort of significant disclosure if we nonetheless don’t know what most of those chemical substances are or how poisonous they’re.”

Stronger Fracking Rules

fracking family
Bryan and Ryan Latkanich in entrance of the fracking infrastructure that was previously on their Pennsylvania property in the summertime of 2019. Credit score: Kristina Marusic for Environmental Well being Information.

In mild of their findings, Underhill and her coauthors are urging Congress to repeal the Halliburton Loophole and regulate the fracking business underneath the Protected Ingesting Water Act.

“It was Halliburton’s CEO who first and most strongly lobbied for this loophole, and that firm is certainly benefiting most from this exemption right this moment,” mentioned Underhill.

Halliburton didn’t reply to quite a few requests for remark.

Olson can also be in favor of closing the Halliburton Loophole. “This loophole was a backroom deal folded into laws with no public debate, they usually’ve by no means justified to the general public why it’s wanted,” he mentioned. “That’s as a result of it’s not wanted. It was simply uncooked political energy that enabled them to get it enacted.”

Underhill and her coauthors are additionally urging Congress to move a regulation requiring full disclosure of all chemical substances utilized in fracking, together with proprietary chemical substances, and housing it in a centralized database with federal oversight.

The American Petroleum Institute, a commerce affiliation representing the oil and fuel business, opposes that concept. The group’s “issue paper” on chemical disclosures for the fracking business notes that fracking fluid producers have agreed to reveal particulars about proprietary chemical substances to well being care professionals, emergency responders and regulatory company representatives “when it’s applicable.”

The paper acknowledges that commerce secrets and techniques have brought about concern, however concludes, “the compromise of restricted disclosure when want is justified is a sound response. Safety of [intellectual property] rights is key to the free market financial system wherein all of us work and thrive.”

Making Information on Fracking Chemical compounds Extra Accessible

Researchers are simply beginning to determine the cumulative impacts of the Halliburton Loophole as a result of, till just lately, it was troublesome to acquire nationwide knowledge on fracking disclosures.

The business makes use of a web site known as FracFocus for public disclosures. Whereas it’s attainable to take a look at chemical disclosures for particular person wells by means of the positioning, it’s nearly inconceivable to acquire knowledge in a format that permits for large-scale evaluation.

However a brand new, open-source program known as Open-FF is altering that.

“I used to be attempting to get data from FracFocus and I noticed it’s probably not a database,” Gary Allison, who developed Open-FF, informed EHN. “It takes numerous work to get the information to the purpose the place you possibly can really use it.”

One situation was that FracFocus makes use of non-standardized names for corporations and chemical substances. For instance, Allison needed to account for greater than 80 variations of the phrase “Halliburton” together with misspellings, typos and abbreviations to make it attainable to look the database for all chemical substances made by the corporate.

“Prior to now, it was extremely laborious to obtain knowledge from FracFocus that permits for systematic evaluation or investigation,” Underhill mentioned. “Now this knowledge can lastly be used successfully by researchers.”

Allison famous that anybody can use this system — not simply scientists and researchers.

“Most individuals don’t have fluency in chemistry, so it may be actually overwhelming to take a look at these knowledge sheets and make sense of what’s occurring,” he mentioned. “I hope to get Open-FF to the purpose the place members of the general public can simply log into the positioning and discover out what chemical substances are being put into the bottom close to their properties.”

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