New report on fracking chemicals, including one that is a potential "chemical terrorism agent"

The Democratic members of the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee have been vigorously investigating the threats of hydraulic fracturing (aka "fracking") and other risky oil and gas production processes for many years. The results of their most recent efforts were just released in a report on the types, volumes, and chemical contents of the fracking products used by the 14 leading oil and gas service companies. Oil and gas service companies are the companies that actually do the hydraulic fracturing--they are paid by the producers to carry out this work.

The results of the report are alarming. Among the findings:

  • Over a five-year period from 2005-2009, companies used more than 2,500 hydraulic fracturing products containing 750 different chemicals and other components, including chemicals that are known or possible human carcinogens or are federally regulated because at certain levels they are known to be quite harmful to human health--such as benzene, lead, and diesel fuel.
  • Two fracking products contained hydrofluoric acid (hydrogen fluoride in water). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "You could be exposed to hydrogen fluoride if it is used as a chemical terrorism agent." My colleague Briana Mordick, NRDC's Science Fellow and a geologist, explained to me that hydrofluoric acid can eat through hard rocks. According to the CDC, swallowing only a small amount of highly concentrated hydrofluoric acid or even splashes of hydrofluoric acid on the skin can be fatal. It can cause a wide range of very serious health effects.
  • Many of the fracking fluids contain chemical components that are listed as “proprietary” or “trade secret,” so the public cannot know what chemicals are being stored, used, or disposed of in their communities or near their drinking water sources.

Fracking fluid ingredients have been kept secret by the oil and gas industry for years. Efforts to shed light on the contents of these fluids are now taking hold, with Wyoming and Arkansas passing new rules to provide public information. But oil and gas is produced in more than thirty states, and disclosure in two states is not enough. Communities in every state deserve disclosure of chemicals and federal regulation of hydraulic fracturing.

This latest report importantly exposes more data that underscore the essential need for more scientific investigation as well as stronger regulatory oversight of the fracking process. Industry may continue to claim there is no documentation that drinking water has been contaminated by the fracking process, but that may be because no one has ever fully investigated the process and its effects. We know enough about the risks of the chemicals used and the many potential ways they can affect drinking water sources to warrant regulations that apply nationwide.

Legislation has been introduced in the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives that would ensure federal regulation of hydraulic fracturing. The legislation is called the FRAC Act (its formal name is the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act). NRDC makes it easy for you to write to your Senators and Representatives and ask them to co-sponsor this legislation on our website.