How toxic are hydraulic fracturing fluids? Ask Louisiana.

In April of this year, 17 cows died in Caddo Parish, Louisiana, after apparently drinking fluid that had spilled from a nearby natural gas wellpad. The local sheriff's office, although the designated first responder, was not notified and found out from community residents. It was therefore several hours after the cattle deaths were found before the Caddo Parish hazmat team was dispatched.

At the time of the accident, the well in question was being hydraulically fractured. At the site were two companies involved in the hydraulic fracturing: Superior Well Services and Schlumberger. The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality is still investigating this case, but according to a letter from Chesapeake Energy, the natural gas operator that owns the well: "During a routine well stimulation/formation fracturing operation by Schlumberger for Chesapeake, it was observed that a portion of mixed 'frac' fluids, composed of over 99 percent freshwater, leaked from vessels and/or piping onto the well pad."

This means that less than one percent of the fluid that leaked consisted of additives to the water. Yet it appears that the fluid was toxic enough to kill cows almost immediately upon drinking. Chesapeake's letter also states that it did not report the spill because it was not a reportable quantity of fluid. Does something sound wrong about this to you? It was enough to kill 17 head of cattle, but not enough to warrant reporting to the authorities.

Industry says that: "On average, 99.5% of fracturing fluids are comprised of freshwater...." and "Other ingredients in fracturing fluid could affect your health-if you were exposed to them in high enough quantities. However, the concentration of these elements is far below the levels necessary to pose a threat."

Does that make anyone feel safe?

About the Authors

Amy Mall

Senior Policy Analyst, Land & Wildlife program

Join Us