Article courtesy of Megan Hart | August 13, 2014 | CJ Online | Shared as educational material
Companies engaged in fracking in Kansas used chemicals that can cause cancer to extract gas in four wells, the Environmental Integrity Project alleged in a report that has been disputed by industry officials.
The report, released Wednesday, examined the use of diesel, kerosene and similar hydrocarbons in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Industry representatives questioned the report’s premise and said it showed no evidence of harm to human health.
Fracking involves injecting water, sand and chemicals into the ground to break up rock formations and release natural gas. It is an important factor in the surge of natural gas production in the U.S. over the past few years, but it also has raised concerns about groundwater contamination.
Mary Green, author of the report, said 351 wells in 12 states used diesel without a water quality permit between 2011 and July 2014. She said chemicals within diesel have been identified as causing cancer and damage to the nervous system.
“This is first and foremost a public health issue,” she said.
Katie Brown, a spokeswoman for Energy in Depth, a program of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, said the industry has adequate safeguards to protect public health, and that many of the wells actually used kerosene, which didn’t require a permit at the time. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency later issued a guiding statement that kerosene should be considered a form of diesel, and companies that want to use it should seek a permit.
“There has never been a single case of water contamination from hydraulic fracturing, whether diesel fuel was used or not,” she said in a written response. “This would be like if officials reduced the speed limit, and then accused drivers of speeding because of how fast they drove before the change.”
The report identified two wells in Harper County and two in Grant County that used diesel or similar products. The database said the Harper County wells were owned by Shell and used petroleum hydrocarbon oil as a thickening agent in oil extraction. A spokeswoman for Shell said they didn’t acquire the wells until 2012, and Woolsey Operating was the one that used the petroleum hydrocarbon.
Wayne Woolsey, president of Woolsey Operating, said his company never used diesel or similar fluids in its fracking operations.
The Grant County wells, owned by Pioneer Natural Resources, used kerosene in gas extraction. A database accompanying the report didn’t include information on the exact use of kerosene in those wells.
Tadd Owens, vice president of government affairs for Pioneer, said those wells were in use only in 2011, and the company replaced kerosene with non-hydrocarbon chemicals after the Environmental Protection Agency issued its guidance. It sold its Kansas wells earlier this year.
Owens said regulations in Kansas require steel and cement barriers around the wells to keep groundwater and fracking fluids apart. He estimated Pioneer used about 10 gallons of kerosene in every 1 million gallons of injected fluids.
Studies have turned up mixed results when it comes to whether fracking leads to groundwater contamination. Two studies, led by Duke University, found methane and propane contamination in water wells near Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale formation, while a U.S. Geological Survey study found no evidence of contamination in wells near fracking sites in Arkansas.