The Steamboat Institute recently held a seminar called “Fracking: The Radical Left’s Latest Weapon of Fear.” The title for the evening activities sounded unbalanced, so I attended to see what it was all about. It started with introductory background on directional drilling and the fracking process. John Lamb, of Steamboat Energy Consultants, stunned me when he skirted audience questions that were at the heart of the risks that fracking presents.
He was asked why fracking companies aren’t more open about the fluids they put down the hole. The questioner added that he was sure they wouldn’t be environmentally harmful (seeming to imply that would be imprudent).
Mr. Lamb’s reply was that companies consider the fluids to be competitive secrets. I buy this. But the list of hundreds of chemical compounds used across the industry is public record. They are well-known carcinogenic compounds. Not all are used in any one situation. But they almost always are carcinogenic. While the state of Colorado requires disclosure of chemicals used, Quicksilver Resources did not identify them to our Routt County commissioners. They said the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for the chemicals they use will be at the well site for use by emergency personnel. They also admitted that they might use “found oil” if found in drilling. The components of oil are carcinogenic.
The industry also claims that fracking fluid is water “based” and hopes you don’t pursue it further. It is in fact around 98 percent water and a propping agent like silica (sand). The other 1 to 2 percent are the carcinogenic materials needed to reduce friction and perform other functions. A well that uses 4 million gallons of water for fracking can have 1 percent, or 40,000 gallons, of these carcinogenic materials.
Another member of the audience asked about the water that comes back up the well. Mr. Lamb answered that some of the water is “found water” and is all “organic.” The questioner countered that arsenic is organic, too, if the term is simply to mean it is naturally occurring. A forthright answer from Mr. Lamb would have been that about 30 percent of the fracking fluid is recovered. The balance is lost underground. This means that 12,000 gallons of carcinogenic materials (30 percent of 40,000 gallons) is lost. Furthermore, “found water,” naturally occurring where they drilled, can be forced to the surface. This water has been found to contain radium-226, uranium and radon-222. The industry, while attempting to hide this issue, is quietly enlisting the help of technology companies such as General Electric to figure out a way to treat this water. In the meantime, it is disposed of without treatment effective for radiation or carcinogens. Evaporative ponds, as likely will be used by Quicksilver’s treatment vendor, allow these volatile organic compounds to escape to the atmosphere.
The final point of misinformation was the popular industry claim that there have been no proven cases of well contamination. There are in fact hundreds of lawsuits that have been settled, involving hundreds of millions of dollars paid to private and public well owners. The industry trick is to not allow the case to go to judgment but rather to settle without admission of responsibility, and the oil company insists that the case be sealed so that the public cannot view the evidence. One case was documented before this practice was used. In 1987, the EPA found that a Mr. Parsons in Jackson County, W.V., had his well contaminated with fracturing fluids and natural gas by a well 600 feet away.