Fracking Chemicals May Be Unknown, Even To Gas Drillers, Lawsuit Documents Suggest

fracking chemicalsHuffington Post – by Kate Sheppard

Critics of hydraulic fracturing, known widely as “fracking,” have been pushing hard for natural gas companies to disclose all of the chemicals in the fluids that are used in the process. But what if the companies themselves don’t even know what those chemicals are?

Documents from a lawsuit against Texas-based Range Resources suggest that they may not. The documents are part of an appeal that a resident of Washington County, Pa., has made to the state’s Environmental Hearing Board. The plaintiff in the case alleges that a Range wastewater impoundment, which holds water left over from hydraulic fracturing operations, contaminated well water. Washington County has been a focal point in the debate over fracking, which uses a high-pressure stream of water, sand and chemicals to tap into shale reserves below the earth’s surface. (See the full filing here.)  

As part of the discovery process in this case, a judge directed Range to release the full list of chemicals used in its drilling operations, including the components of all the products that are used at every stage in the gas drilling process. But Range says in its filing that it has been unable to obtain from its suppliers the ingredients in many of the products. Range has been inquiring with its manufacturers about the ingredients in 55 different products, including lubricants, drilling fluids, slurry and surfactants, according to documents. But in many cases, Range had not yet been able to obtain the information.

One example on the list is Airfoam HD, a type of surfactant used to release gas from wells. The list indicates that Range sent an email and made a phone call seeking a full list of components of the product, but had not yet received a response. “Phone call and follow-up email requesting that we resend MSDS [Material Safety Data Sheet]. Awaiting additional information,” Range’s note states.

According to the notes, the company that provides another product, known as Flo Stop P, informed Range that it doesn’t actually produce the product, they just apply a label to it and resell it. The reseller could not provide additional information about the contents. Other companies said they would not provide the information without a protective order.

One company, Hi-Mar Specialties, declined to provide additional information about its defoaming agent Hi-Mar DFC-503, saying that the information was “proprietary” and disclosure “would cause substantial harm to Hi-Mar’s business,” according to Range’s filing.

Here’s that portion of the document:

Exhibit 8 – Kiskadden

“Range admits that it does not have an all-encompassing knowledge of the complete chemical formula of every product used at the Yeager Site by Range and/or its subcontractors, as some products contain proprietary compounds which may not be known to Range and many of the MSDS do not list the non-hazardous components of products,” the company’s environmental engineering manager stated in another document, posted in full below.

The documents derive from a case that dates back to 2011, when Loren Kiskadden, a resident of Amwell, Pa., first asked the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to look into potential contamination of his well, which is located near a Range drilling site. In June 2011, the DEP concluded that, while chemicals like butyl alcohol, chloroform, methane and acetone were found in Kiskadden’s water, they could not be directly linked to Range’s drilling operations.

Kiskadden is now appealing to the state’s Environmental Hearing Board, alleging that the DEP did not do adequate analysis when it made that determination. An agency scientist also testified in a deposition related to the case that when it reported its findings, the DEP omitted some data on toxic metals identified in its tests on Kiskadden’s water. The case is expected to go before the board next spring.

“The fact that Range does not know and cannot determine all of the chemicals used at its drill sites and placed into the Pennsylvania Environment is, in and of itself, almost inconceivable,” the plaintiff’s lawyer argues in the filing. They also argue that the DEP is “irresponsible” in not requiring Range to provide that information, and that Range should be found in contempt of the court for failing to do so.

The site in Amwell is one of several in the U.S. that federal regulators have been investigating in response to concerns about air and water pollution resulting from fracking operations. The Associated Press reported earlier this year that the Environmental Protection Agency dropped its investigation of a case of suspected contamination in Texas in response to pressure from Range.

Amanda Witman, a spokeswoman for the DEP, said the department could not comment on the case, as litigation is pending. But she said that, under a new law governing oil and gas drilling passed in 2012, companies must provide a report to the DEP within 30 days of beginning production at a well that “includes a list of ALL the chemicals used to hydraulically fracture the well,” including both hazardous and non-hazardous chemical constituents, as well as information claimed as trade secrets. Before that law, companies were supposed to disclose that sort of information to the DEP as part of their spill containment and cleanup plans. Witman said that, under current law, obtaining the chemical information is “the obligation of the operator.”

Critics say that the DEP can’t possibly enforce that requirement if Range itself says it doesn’t have a full accounting of all the chemicals used in its processes. “How can Range Resources ever claim they aren’t responsible for contaminating the water and air now that they have admitted they don’t even know what chemicals they’re using?” said Jesse White, a state representative from the 46th district that has been a vocal critic of the natural gas industry. “If they don’t know what’s in there, what can they test for?”

Range was one of the first companies to announce, in July 2010, that it wouldvoluntarily disclose all of the chemicals that it uses in the fracking process. “It’s the right thing to do morally and ethically, but it’s also right for our shareholders,” John Pinkerton, Range’s executive chairman, said at the time.

In 2011, industry groups, with a grant from the Department of Energy, launched an online databaseFracFocus, to provide companies with a platform to voluntarily disclose the chemicals they use. But independent studies have criticized FracFocus for providing incomplete information, with many wells not listed in the database at all. Fracking critics say that voluntary reporting requirements are not strong enough.

White said he plans to introduce legislation that would force companies to disclose all chemicals used throughout the fracking process, and would require the DEP to keep a list of the chemicals that companies intend to use in a database before the companies are given a permit to drill. “Range has this very well-varnished public perception that they’re disclosing what they’re using,” White said. “Range has been bragging that they’re the first to voluntarily disclose for years now, which is clearly a lie.”

16 thoughts on “Fracking Chemicals May Be Unknown, Even To Gas Drillers, Lawsuit Documents Suggest

  1. here’s the thing in the oil and gas drilling industry within our US Bounds……..
    i spent nearly 10 years out in the field, purchasing crude oil off saltwater disposal wells,within the Williston Oil Basin, for later resale,for my own account, including the trucks, storage tanks and so forth, and in so doing I got to know the absolute of crude oil and natural gas recovery from within our earth……I don’t know every thing…but I know one hell of a lot…
    The bottom line on fracking………it has not changed much and most of it is safe but some of it is not, depending on the formation which it is shoved into…and the oil industry will not police itself…… land owners must be competent to stave off drillers who will go into the wrong formations which may invade the water tables of the surface use………..and also the deeper underground rivers that are said to run from the rocky mountain east front to the east over Montana, North Dakota and beyond…….said to be a massive river of fresh water………and could easily be contaminated…also, people are fallible and the best petroleum engineers may error or have been taught incorrect facts regarding the ground under our feet…….

    1. So, let me get this straight, you were in “buying and purchasing”… Right? You were Not a “Roughneck” (like my husband + family members & friends who actually did/do the drilling/fracking). Not trying to start anything, but there’s a difference in “knowledge” between the two. Just want to be clear. 🙂

      1. no i was not in purchasing………..I for my own business, bought crude oil, handled it, readied it for resale and then under contract,resold the crude in marketable form from which it was not when I purchased it…i owned transport trucks, Hot Oil Trucks of my own which i contracted out to producing oil wells as well as owning one well on my own….and my friends were the owners of hot oil truck firms, fracking firms………, am i making myself clear….
        I was not, nor ever have i been an employee…nothing wrong with that……it just was not my take in the oil business…
        At the time, my company was ….Crude Oil Service…my own creation listed at that time on Dun and Brad Street;;;;;;;;

          1. as a matter of asking!
            Do you know what the hell a hot oil truck is?
            ask your husband……he will barely know…………get a grip
            and this is an example of what is the matter with our country
            People think???
            When they don’t know….
            Same as it was when I was sent to vietnam……and all those young people both in vietnam and the invaders……………..died and were for ever injured because………people think…without asking

      2. Angel-NYC

        where do you live and who are you?
        You ever been out here./??
        I am in Billings Montana….born in this state worked here my whole life….
        and what about you?
        I am open to all criticism but you better know your stuff before you throw it at me…
        Robert Beason Billings montana 59102

        1. Bryan, Texas 77802
          Sixth Generation Texan, Hubby 8th.
          Family/friends worked and died in the “fields” from the first wells through today.
          Like I said, I wasn’t trying to “start” anything with you. Just wanted clarification of you “knowledge”.

          1. well you found it out
            think of it this way
            same as any industry

            if one does not really dig and look, the whole bunch could have been in it for generations and never knew……….
            same with the oil and gas business…,.

            its one of the most, fact is, needed of commercial businesses there are…….
            Change is far beyond of being done….but yet it launders………

          2. $$$ Talk. To HELL with everything else.
            YES! We know EXACTLY what a “hot oil truck “is. No need to get defensive and put others down. It only makes you look like a fool. This isn’t a “pissing contest”. I only asked an innocent question.

  2. not a pissing contest
    the “roughneck”
    has no idea what chemicals are going into the ground
    and in many cases does the engineer over seeing the operation so don’t speak from the voice of a hand on deck……….bless those people…
    i love them…….
    I have no idea either..
    fracking is not some sinister tale to undue the human race….
    thats’s my thought……….

  3. looking through this whole speak-easy
    of Byron Texas
    I suspect deeply you are not what you say you are…………
    Nor who you say you are……………
    Tell me I am wrong………
    Show me!!!!!
    I doubt you can.
    Robert Beason……………..

    1. rbeason,
      Angel has been my friend since before From the Trenches. We conversed on the site I wrote for before this one.
      As for fracking, f#@k it. Just another way of removing the raw resources that are taken from we the people, refined, and then sold to us at world market price. It is further harming this filthy environment I am forced to live in. In fact the town I live in and our people have been poisoned by the benzine from the transport and storage of petroleum products. The pollution was accomplished by the railroad companies and as the place is a corporate fiefdom, the people here will know no justice until the Republic is reinstated.
      You have been a good contributor but do not try to sell me or anyone else here on fracking or any other industry involving the theft of our resources. I may not know the exact chemicals being used, but I do know that the industry cares not who they kill or whose water and environment they pollute in their quest for riches. This shit is getting into the water table and I believe it has something to do with the sinkholes opening up all of the sudden like.
      At any rate, Angel was only asking a question which she has every right to do. And as I said, she is also a contributor and has been so from the beginning of From the Trenches. She is now living in New York and has been our eyes on the streets there, putting forth first hand accounts of the Occupy protests and every other event occurring there. Bear this in mind as we all must get along if we are to achieve our common goal.

      1. Thanks Henry. Angel called me about this one last night, but I really didn’t know what to say, so I told her to wait till this morning, as I was sure you’d have some input on it.

  4. rbeason said: “….so land owners must be competent to stave off drillers who will go into the wrong formations which may invade the water tables of the surface use…”

    Are you suggesting that all land owners need to be geologists now just to stop the oil industry from poisoning them? How many people know anything about the rock formations under their land?

    Don’t you think it makes a lot more sense to stop oil companies from pumping toxins into the ground?

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