(Beyond Pesticides, February 20, 2007) With little oversight from the federal government, a myriad of chemicals are being injected underground in the name of energy exploration in the West. Among these chemicals, biocides are considered to pose a serious threat to environmental and public health.
Hydraulic fracturing, known as “fracking” or “frac’ing” for short, is the process approximately 90 percent of oil and gas wells in the U.S. undergo to facilitate extraction. Biocides are used to kill microorganisms that can interfere with other fluids and methods used to stimulate extraction, and to prevent corrosion to pipes.
Thousands of wells are popping up over Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, and New Mexico, many of which are located on private property, and some directly adjacent to homes. Many property owners do not own adequate mineral rights to what lies under their land and are rendered powerless to stop energy exploration. With minimal federal oversight, wells, roads and pipelines are established rapidly in these areas bringing heavy traffic, noisy equipment, and air, soil and water pollution.
In 2005, the oil and gas industry was granted an exemption from the Safe Drinking Water Act, allowing the injection of toxic fluids directly into groundwater without oversight by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Prior to enacting this policy, EPA conducted a study that concludes fracking poses a minimal threat to underground sources of drinking water and determines no further study of fracking is warranted; the study has raised criticism from both inside and outside of the agency. Despite concern from public health professionals and landowners who have experienced tainted water themselves (read Laura Amos’ story), the agency has continued to require minimal regulation of the industry.
Lack of oversight is a problem that is compounded at the state level. For example, Colorado allows oil and gas oversight to be headed up by those who have past and/or present employment in the industry.
Since there is no disclosure of the chemicals or amounts used in the process, it is not possible to determine how much of a threat these chemicals pose. However, from the analysis that has been conducted by the Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX) on the limited information that has been obtained, it has been determined that the products labeled as biocides are among the most lethal.
One example is an ingredient used in some biocide formulations: 2-(2-methoxyethoxy) ethanol, diethylene glycol monomethyl ether. It is a suspected carcinogen, known to cause fetal deformities and organ malformations, and reduced male fertility.
Beyond the fact that only a fraction of injected chemicals can be recovered from the ground, those that are recovered have to be handled and disposed. Recovered fluids are often deposited in pits, where evaporation and leaching pose potential sources of pollution. Spills are also common. Dozens of people have reported experiencing health impacts they attribute to oil and gas development being conducted in their backyards.
See the Oil and Gas Accountability Project (OGAP) for more information on fracking.
More articles about fracking and its effects on the West:
- “EPA to Citizens: Frack You,” Salon (May 5, 2006)
- “How Halliburton’s Technology is Wrecking the Rockies,” On Earth (Summer 2006)
- Series: “Taking On Goliath,” Orion (November/December 2006)
- “Collateral Damage,” Aspen Times (December 3, 2006)
TAKE ACTION: Conserve energy and use renewable sources whenever possible. If your home is heated by gas, cut down on your use (and bill) by weather proofing your house and turning the thermostat down when you are not home.