We already know enough about fracking to know that it is a threat to clean air, clean water and a livable climate. But a new report adds more to this disturbing body of knowledge—and at a time when key decision-makers can do something to rein in this destructive industry.
A new paper from the Partnership for Policy Integrity called “Keystone Secrets” attempts to catalogue the use of dangerous chemicals in the state of Pennsylvania. Based in part on an analysis of chemical disclosure information from FracTracker Alliance, the report documents over 13,000 uses of secret chemicals in 2,500 wells between 2013 and 2017--and that’s likely to be an undercount.
The fracking industry’s control of data, information and access to sites has long shaped what’s known about fracking’s impacts. Drilling companies use loopholes in the rules in Pennsylvania to withhold the identity of fracking chemicals as “trade secrets.” These are the chemicals in the liquids injected into the wells, done to fracture shale and release any oil and gas (and ancient brines) exposed to the well via the fractures. The chemical information is kept secret from the public and, in some cases, even from relevant regulatory agencies and first responders.
The report finds the heaviest use of secret fracking chemicals in Washington County and also in Susquehanna County, which is near the Delaware River basin.
The EPA has warned that some fracking chemicals pose serious health risks, and these health effects are well-documented. One study of Washington County residents with water wells near fracking wells show more frequent reports of upper respiratory problems. Other studies point to problems like low birth weight, fatigue, migraines, chronic nasal and sinus problems.
The considerable wastewater generated by fracking can spill en route to being treated or stored. It can also migrate into aquifers or to the surface, or be discharged into waterways. These risks are borne primarily by frontline communities that are forced to sacrifice their health for corporate profits. But fracking waste also poses risks to the millions of people who rely on the Delaware River basin for drinking water.
That threat is what is driving the battle over fracking rules pending for the Delaware River basin. The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) is currently considering rules that would finally ban fracking in the watershed. But there’s a catch: Those rules could potentially allow for the treatment, storage and dumping of fracking-related waste in the watershed. That would grant fracking and waste treatment companies the ability to store, treat, and dump unknown chemicals in one of the most important sources of clean drinking water in the region—and no one would know precisely what was being stored there, or whether the treatment facilities were equipped to handle such materials in the first place.
The only sensible response to this threat is a full and complete ban on all fracking-related activities in the Delaware River basin—and, for that matter, everywhere else.