Cancer-Causing Chemicals Used in 34 Percent of Reported Fracking Operations
By David Manthos with Data Analysis by David Darling
Recognized carcinogens are used in one of every three hydraulic fracturing operations across the nation—according to industry self-reporting. Independent analysis of the SkyTruth Fracking Chemical Database by IT professional David Darling found that 9,310 individual fracking operations conducted between January 2011 and September 2012 disclosed the use of at least one known carcinogen.
While not all hydraulic fracturing operations or all chemicals used in the process are disclosed by the drilling industry, thanks to the lack of a uniform national disclosure law and exacerbated by the liberal use of "trade secret" exemptions, known cancer-causing substances such as naphthalene, benzyl chloride and formaldehyde were used in 34 percent of all fracks reported by industry to FracFocus.org.
Hydraulic fracturing operation near private homes in Wetzel County, West Virginia, November 2012. Photo by SkyTruth; aerial overflight provided by LightHawk.
Since creating a Fracking Chemical Database, which we released to the public back in November, SkyTruth has worked to quantify some of the issues related to fracking, but our main objective in building and publishing the database was to enable research on the subject by anyone interested. This approach has been fruitful in several ways, such as our work with Darling, an IT professional specializing in database and software programming, who enjoys working with complicated datasets for his own professional development.
Darling has built powerful structured query language (SQL) tools to analyze our database and join it to others, which he writes about in very technical detail on his website. For those of us not familiar with database management and SQL language, we provide a layman's guide to his findings here.
Most recently, we asked him to compare the data from Goodguide.com's chemical profile Scorecard, originally a project of the Environmental Defense Fund to profile the respective hazards of more than 11,200 industrial chemicals. For recognized carcinogens, Scorecard provides a database compiled from California's Proposition 65 (P-65), source of the familiar phrase "known to the State of California to cause cancer." Under P-65, California manages a list of carcinogenic substances identified by health authorities such as the International Agency for Reaserch on Cancer and the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Toxic Release Inventory (TRI).
Searching 27,000+ reports from the fracking database, Darling found 11,586 separate instances of recognized carcinogens used in hydraulic fracturing operations during the 20 months the database covers. However, in a long list of substances like Nitrilotriacetic Acid - Trisodium Salt Monohydrate (used 259 times) or ethylbenzene (used 134 times), three known carcinogens were used far more than all the rest:
Furthermore, when Darling expanded the search to include suspected carcinogens, a long list of substances from common household chemicals to arsenic and chromium, he found 24,861 fracks (or 90 percent of all reports) that listed using at least one suspected carcinogen in the fracking process.
Understanding that nearly all industrial processes pose some risk to public health, we think the routine use of these chemicals highlights an area in need of independent research and evaluation: What are the pathways for water, soil and air contamination from hydraulic fracturing that could potentially lead to human exposure? And how often do failures occur during drilling and fracking operations that could result in unwanted chemical migration along those pathways?
Hopefully the EPA's ongoing study of hydraulic fracturing safety is going to produce definitive, scientifically robust answers to these questions. Until then, here are a few relevant observations about likely pathways:
Spills of raw ingredients or wastewater: Drilling chemicals are transported by truck to the worksite along public roads and often over private land; workers must handle these chemicals to mix and pump them into the ground; and in the end some chemicals return to the surface in wastewater that must be either disposed of or treated for reuse. Anywhere along this chain of events human error or unavoidable accidents can and do occur, releasing chemicals into the environment and exposing workers and/or the general public to toxic substances. Our SkyTruth Alerts system tracks oil and hazardous materials spills reported to the National Response Center, as well as state-issued environmental and safety violation reports in West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
Air pollution: Unconventional shale oil and gas development has substantially impacted air quality around active fields such as the Jonah and Pinedale Anticline fields in the Upper Green River Basin of Wyoming, where on some winter days ozone levels are worse than in Los Angeles. From aerosolizing these chemicals through the high-pressure process of fracking, to flaring off gases from the well (which may also burn a number of these chemicals), to evaporating the chemicals from open pits of drilling fluids, water is not the only vital resource impacted by fracking.
Groundwater contamination: Images of flaming sink faucets from contaminated wells have ignited a global movement against fracking. If a well casing fails, a cementing job is inadequate or fractures reach the water table, then groundwater can become not only toxic, but potentially explosive.
The risk of exposure to these chemicals should be thoroughly studied by pubic and occupational health experts, and their findings accounted for in regulatory and policy decisions about drilling and fracking. Full and open disclosure of the chemicals used at all stages of drilling and completion activity—including during hydraulic fracturing operations—is a necessary element of protecting public health. We recently provided specific recommendations for improved disclosure to the Bureau of Land Management (which just announced they will go back to the drawing board and publish an entirely new proposed rule for fracking on public lands at the end of March after criticism of the 2012 draft from both industry and environmentalists).
After searching for data from many sources, and hitting what he described as "the fracking wall" around data on oil and gas development, Darling concluded that, "FracFocus.org’s website at that time was intentionally constructed to make information extraction difficult." However, with open access to the information, researchers, citizen scientists and skilled professionals can begin to unravel some of the mysteries that surround the boom in unconventional oil and gas development.
To read David Darling's perspective on the FracFocus data and learn more about how he conducted this analysis, visit his website at Preliminary Analysis of FracFocus.org.
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Naomi Larsson
For centuries, the delicate silver dove has been a symbol of love and fidelity.
Biodiversity and Habitat Loss<p>Their near extinction is a symbol of the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/global-biodiversity-outlook-targets-extinction-summit-new-york-pledge/a-54932895" target="_blank">biodiversity crisis</a> in the UK, largely driven by habitat destruction. Britain is now one of the countries with the most <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/future-of-UK-nature#:~:text=The%20UK%20is%20one%20of,than%20half%20are%20in%20decline" target="_blank">depleted nature</a> in the world according to the World Wildlife Fund. Half its plant and animal species are in decline and more than <a href="https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/let-nature-sing-wales/#:~:text=a%20natural%20tragedy.-,Over%2040%20million%20birds%20have%20vanished%20from%20UK%20skies%20in,unaware%20of%20the%20impending%20danger" target="_blank">40 million birds</a> have vanished in just half a century.</p><p>"[Turtle doves] are the canary in the [coal] mine because there are all these other species before it and after it," said Tree. "It's an umbrella for all the other species that are heading that way."</p><p>Turtle doves migrate south through Europe to sub-Saharan Africa between July and September, ending up in dry woodland and farmland areas of countries like Mali and Senegal for winter. </p><p>Droughts in West Africa and the Sahel region are believed to have contributed to the fall in turtle dove species recorded in northern Europe, with low rainfall reducing supplies of the seeds and insects the birds rely on for energy for the long journey home.</p>
Conservation and Farming<p><a href="https://www.operationturtledove.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Operation Turtle Dove,</a> a partnership project of charities including the Essex Wildlife trust, works with landowners and farmers to actively build turtle dove habitat.</p><p>Outten works with <a href="https://www.ebws.org.uk/birdsites/blue-house-farm-ewt-north-fambridge" target="_blank">Blue House Farm</a>, a 660-acre nature reserve in the UK county of Essex, where they have replicated weedy fallow plots. </p><p>"We work on it every year to make sure it's in the condition it needs to be with plants such as clovers and black medic," Outten said. "These plants are native to the landscape and produce the seed the birds feed on." </p><p>The birds eat a wide range of seeds from various plants that would have been abundant 50 or 100 years ago, added Guy Anderson, program manager for species recovery with The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). </p><p>"But it's simply true that with the gradual process of <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/farming-without-pesticides-how-can-we-make-agriculture-greener/a-52216796" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">intensifying our agricultural production</a>, the availability of those seeds has dropped and dropped," said Anderson.</p><p>Part of the project includes supplementary feeding — providing sources of food in the form of seed or grain. Under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme in England, farmers can receive financial support to create a turtle dove habitat. </p><p>Though they haven't recorded an increase in doves across the sites in the four years of working on the project, Outten said they are seeing improvements in how landowners and farmers manage habitat for the birds. </p>
A Turtle Dove Haven<p>The 3,500-acre Knepp Estate in West Sussex is another project taking a different approach and one of the few places where turtle dove numbers are increasing.</p><p>Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell converted their intensively farmed land into a rewilding project almost 20 years ago. They have let the land return to nature.</p><p>Just one year after they'd finished <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/uks-most-talented-architects-are-not-human/a-35952128" target="_blank">rewilding</a> the southern part of their property, they heard turtle doves for the first time. It's now a breeding hotspot for the birds with an estimated 19 pairs. Knepp is also home to <a href="https://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/rewilding/rewilding-projects/knepp-estate" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2% of the UK's population</a> of nightingales. </p><p>Tree is critical of supplementary feeding schemes that, in her view, are short term. She questions the chances of turtle doves getting to feed on scattered seeds before other mammals eat them first.</p>
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