Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” involves sending an awful lot of stuff into the ground. A new report by the Dallas Morning News examines just how much stuff is needed, and what exactly is in it.
Dallas’ City Council is currently considering regulation of fracking within city limits, so the Morning News decided to learn what they could about what kind of “stuff” would be sent underground. The paper’s environmental writer, Randy Lee Loftis, looks at one well in Dallas County, owned and operated by Chesapeake Energy, one of the country’s biggest drillers. The company had voluntarily disclosed much of what it used to frack the well last August, ahead of a new law passed by the Texas legislature mandating such disclosures.
So what did they find? It took 38 million pounds of stuff to frack the well and release the gas trapped deep below.
Most of that (32 million pounds, or nearly four million gallons) was water. A lot of it, close to four million pounds of the mix, was sand. Water and sand made up roughly 95 percent of the materials used to frack the well.
Then there are the chemicals, as much as 55,000 pounds of them:
“…the rest of what went underground was chemicals — acids, alcohols, petroleum-related mixtures and others. Doing the math indicates that well 3H might have received as much as 55,000 pounds of chemicals. If the other wells in the Barnett Shale have required similar amounts, the chemical injection across the region may have approached 1 billion pounds.
The Chesapeake report did not specify the exact amount of each chemical or product that was used, only the maximum possible percentage. So the total chemical amount for the well could be an overestimate, but the numbers do show that the chemical use might be higher than the public imagined. Hydrogen chloride, for example, might make up just 0.09 percent of the fracking fluid, but that might represent 35,480 pounds.”
The paper finds that most of the chemicals were disclosed, but some were not, having been deemed “trade secrets.” And some of the chemicals included in the mix were toxic, “with potentially fatal consequences for inhaling or swallowing it or through skin contact” and ecologically dangerous Loftis writes.
The general consensus at this point is that fracking drilling takes place so far below ground that in most cases, it can’t move up and pollute drinking water closer to the surface. But, as studies have shown, there are risks from surface spills, blowouts and well casing failures where water could become contaminated. (And when the waste water from fracking is disposed of even deeper underground, it can cause earthquakes in some places.)
The Morning News report finds some serious loopholes in Texas’ fracking disclosure laws. “Incidental chemicals not used for a specific purpose need not be reported,” Loftis writes. “Actual amounts used aren’t required. Trade secrets can still be protected.”
And the disclosure laws only apply to new wells permitted after February 1 of this year. But before that, Loftis notes, there were already 18,000 wells for fracking drilled in the state. Under the law, there will be no disclosure disclosure of those fracking operations.